Wednesday 31 July 2013

Peter Tatchell: 'Bradley Manning an honourable whistle-blower - not a thief or spy'

“Bradley Manning has been found guilty of theft and espionage after a biased, unfair trial in which he was not allowed to provide evidence of his motives and intentions when he released secret US files. These files included evidence of US war crimes, lies and cover-ups. Although he was found not guilty of aiding the enemy, the verdict is a travesty of justice. It mocks the honesty and idealism of a good soldier who sought to expose human rights abuses and defend international humanitarian law,” said Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation, which has campaigned in support of Manning’s right to expose wrong-doing.

Gay actor Kieron Richardson, from the TV soap opera Hollyoaks, has joined with Peter Tatchell to support Bradley Manning. PHOTO:
For a print quality version, click here:

“Manning is a LGBT equality supporter and has attended LGBT protests. He was subjected to homophobic abuse while in military detention awaiting trial. Some of his critics have tried to discredit him by falsely insinuating that anger and confusion over his sexuality and gender identity was a factor that led him to make his revelations. There has been an anti-gay sub-text to the way Manning has sometimes been portrayed by the media and his critics. 

“Bradley Manning is an honourable whistle-blower - not a thief or spy. He exposed the truth about US war crimes in Iraq.

“Manning is a true patriot, not a traitor. He reveres the founding ideals of the US: the notion of an open, honest government that is accountable to the people and that pursues its policies by lawful means with respect for human rights. At great personal sacrifice, he exposed grave crimes that were perpetrated and then hidden by the US government and military. These are the characteristics of a man of conscience, motivated by altruism. Thanks to Manning, the US people now know the truth.

“One of the war crimes he exposed was a US Apache helicopter attack that gunned down 11 Iraqi civilians in 2007, including two Reuters journalists and men who had gone to the aid of the wounded. Two children were also gravely injured when the US helicopter opened fire on their van. The video records US soldiers laughing and joking at the killings, and also insulting the victims.

“The video of the massacre can be seen at:

“This slaughter had previously been the subject of a cover-up by the US armed forces, which claimed dishonestly that the helicopter had been engaged in combat operations against armed enemy forces.

“It is only thanks to Bradley Manning that we now know the truth about this massacre of innocent civilians – and about the killings of hundreds of other civilians in unreported and undocumented incidents.

“The trial judge’s ruling that Manning was not allowed to use a ‘public interest’ defence during his trial was outrageous. Knowing that his motives were to tell the American people the truth and spark a public debate is an essential element to determine his guilt or innocence,” said Mr Tatchell.

Anne FitzGerald, Director of Research and Crisis Response at Amnesty International, agrees. She believes it was unfair that Bradley was unable to use a public interest defence, as "he reasonably believed he was exposing human rights and humanitarian law violations."

READ more on why Amnesty believe Bradley is entitled to use the ‘public interest’ defence:

There is no evidence that Manning aided any enemy of the US, caused harm to US personnel or that he had any intention to do so. This view is shared by Amnesty International:

Amnesty said the “aiding the enemy” charge was a “travesty of justice”:

WATCH Peter Tatchell speak at Bradley Manning’s defence rally in London:

READ Bradley Manning’s opening defence statement to the court in full:

Call for devolved powers to tackle London's 7,000 vacant shops

The capital has almost 7,000 vacant shops, costing the London economy £350 million in lost trade and earnings, a new study has revealed.

Streets Ahead, produced by London Councils, which represents the capital’s 33 local authorities, looks at the capital’s high streets and makes a range of recommendations to improve the local economy.
The study calls for the government to grant councils more powers to curb betting shops, payday lenders and fried food outlets, which can damage high streets. It shows that devolving more powers to councils would help stimulate growth and new jobs.

Dianna Neal, Head of Economy, Culture and Tourism at London Councils said: 

 “The study’s findings highlight the need for the radical devolution of power and resources to councils to help businesses adapt to a changed consumer environment.

“The government could halt further decline by devolving powers to councils to support high streets, such as the ability to stop the damaging spread of betting shops, payday lenders and fried food outlets.”
Boroughs currently do not have the power to control retail outlets which can deter visitors and also have damaging wider social effects, adding to obesity, gambling addiction and serious debt. Recent changes have also made it easier to turn offices into residential units, also undermining growth and local decision making.
The study features a number of innovative case studies as to how boroughs are supporting their local high streets. For example:

 -          The London Borough of Harrow’s Inward Investment Strategy team has worked with banks and property agents to develop investment guides to its local district centres, highlighting local demographics and available properties. The average vacancy rate for retail frontages in town centres across the borough has fallen for the second year running from a high of 7.5 per cent in 2009/10 to 6.5 per cent in 2011/12.
-          The London Borough of Sutton developed a ‘meanwhile lease’ for previously vacant units. This provides an industry standard legal instrument to minimise administrative and legal costs for both landlords and tenants and to enable temporary occupation to take place without the need for lengthy legal procedures, encouraging new enterprises and bringing innovation and creativity back to the high street.

Dianna Neal added: 

 “Councils are already innovating, but giving boroughs additional  powers and resources would go a long way in really creating the conditions for high streets to succeed – creating much-needed jobs.”

Greens leaflet Kensal Green station after UKBorders raid

Brent Green Party leafleted commuters at  Kensal Green station this morning following yesterday's raid by UK Borders officers in which thre people were arrested.

It is reported that they were at Cricklewood station this morning and also at Stratford;

The leaflet (see below) set out the rights of people who are stopped by the officers.

Sarah Teather doubts PM's claims on 'racist van' campaign

Sarah Teather MP, Liberal Democrat, Brent Central, reacting to David Cameron's spokeperson's claim  that the 'racist van' campaign was working, said:
I am extremely sceptical that these adverts are having any effect other than to annoy and upset local residents. The reaction over the last week would certainly suggest that Conservative Ministers are among a very small minority who think the vans are a good idea. "I await the detailed statistics and analysis of the trials which backs up No 10's claim with bated breath. But I dare say that this is a desperate attempt to try and save face in the face of overwhelming public hostility.
With the campaign now condemned by Vince Cable as 'stupid and offensive' and in somewhat milder terms by Nick Clegg, we have to ask how much longer the Liberal Democrats can continue in coalition with such a morally bankrupt and divisive Conservative Party.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

Jenny Jones condemns Coalition's 'senseless' lurch to right on immigration

GREEN Party London Assembly member Jenny Jones has condemned the Coalition Government’s “senseless” lurch to the right on immigration.

Last week, the Home Office’s ‘Go Home or Face Arrest’ vans were piloted in London. They were branded #racistvan by critics on Twitter and Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable described the campaign as "stupid and offensive."

UK Border Agency checks on the immigration status of targeted individuals at London Underground stations have been described as “sinister and disturbing” by London blog Wembley Matters.

“In their efforts to claw back UKIP votes the government seems to have taken leave of their senses. First the intimidation by the racist vans, now blatant discrimination against ethnic minorities going peacefully about their legitimate business“, said Jones.

“Immigration is not the overwhelming problem for the rest of us, it's the semi stagnant economy and poverty pay for millions. When will this government see the damage their vile policies are causing?”

In 2011, Green Party conference passed a motion opposing the government’s cap on immigration. It said we should stop “treating those who are not native to the UK as a problem”. Today, it’s important to restate that.

Brent Greens condemn Kensal Green station raid

The Brent Green Party has released the following statement following the UK Border Agency raid at Kensal Green Station this morning.

Shahrar Ali, Brent Green Party spokesperson said:
UKBA are duty-bound to carry out stops on individuals only on the basis of specific intelligence, not willy nilly on spec as happened at Kensal Green this morning. Every right-thinking citizen of Brent and beyond has cause to be alarmed at this naked violation of process. The report that there have been three arrests changes not one iota that our civil liberties are under threat, not from our neighbours but from state-sanctioned racist van slogans. I am appalled at the wicked designs of this government.
The people of Brent will not stand for it. We stand united against those who seek to terrorise society, who spread fear and incite hatred.

Brent Council leader condemns 'divisive and intimidating' UKBA tactics after station raid

Three people were arrested this morning after the UK Border Agency raid on Kensal Green underground station. Locals said officers behaved in an intimidating way. Cllr Muhammed Butt in a statement to the Kilburn Times condemned the raid, coming as it did after last week's controversial tour of the borough by the 'racist van' which urged 'Go Home or face arrest'.

Full story on the Kilburn Times website HERE

UK Border Agency target Brent station in check for 'illegals'

UK Border Agency at Kensal Green station this morning (via@mattkelcher)

Monday morning commuters at Brent's Kensal Green station were shocked this morning to find a group of black-clad heavies in the booking office stopping passengers as they tried to get to work.

It was the UK Border Agency doing checks on the immigration status of targeted individuals. I saw a similar raid at Wembley Park station in the evening rush hour about 6 weeks.

I found the sight sinister and disturbing, especially when one young woman was surround by between 6 and 8 border guards questioning her in front of passing commuters who were possible her neighbours.

A threatening and humiliating experience.

This morning's raid sent shock waves around the borough as it appeared to coincide with the controversy around the 'racist van' campaign which told 'illegal' immigrants to 'Go Home or face arrest'. Cllr Butt, leader of Brent Council and ace Tweeter PukkahPunjabi from Willesden Green have been in the forefront of resistance to what they view as a crude campaign by the Tories to win back votes from UKIP. Sarah Teather, Brent Central's Lib Dem MP condemned the racist van campaign and was followed on Sunday by Vince Cable who called it 'stupid and offensive'.

Is this the Home Office's response?

 Advice for people stopped in such raids is available HERE

The PFI scandal that led to NHS Trusts going bust

I received the posting below as a comment on Natalie Bennett's NHS speech LINK  but I feel it is important enough to be published as a Guest Blog:

What an excellent assessment of the problems facing the NHS, and what needs to be done to protect it! Thank you for publishing this speech, Martin.

I write as someone who was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in my late 20's. My care through the NHS for more than 35 years must have cost a lot of money, but because of it I was able to continue with a relatively normal working life, and pay large amounts of income tax and NIC. That, to me, is the way things should be.

Hopefully, with a newly-diagnosed Type 1 diabetic in the cabinet, there might be a better appreciation of the NHS within government, but I won't hold my breath!

I spent 25 years of my working life as a Tax Inspector, and in the early 2000's had to consider the first accounts of a company which had won a PFI contract to build a small hospital and provide all of its support services for 30 years. I was concerned at the odd accounting treatment of the transaction, which it appeared would guarantee that the company would automatically make losses (for tax purposes)until the final year, when it would make a huge profit. The losses each year would be set against the trading profits of the two large groups which owned the company 50/50 (one a construction group, the other a major services provider).

I asked for a copy of the PFI contract, and other supporting documents, to see whether I could challenge what looked like artificial tax avoidance, and after a lot of delay and prevarication, I eventually received them. The contract was about 150 pages long, and very complex, but effectively meant that the NHS (or hospital trust involved) would repay the £30m capital cost of the building, plus a generous rate of interest on the "mortgage" for this amount, over the thirty years. The company could charge whatever it wanted to (with very little chance of the NHS being able to challenge the amount) for the services provided during the thirty years, with no chance of the hospital renegotiating the contract, finding another provider or taking the services back "in house".

How had the NHS allowed itself to be tied up in such a bad contract? Because of instructions from the government that, in order to encourage private companies to get involved in PFI projects, it would guarantee to pay their legal and professional costs of entering into contracts. So, in the case I was looking at, the NHS had paid £1.5m for the company's lawyers and accountants to draw up a contract which "stitched-up" the NHS and gave the opportunity for tax avoidance by the two big groups behind the PFI company (one of which had a former cabinet minister as its Chairman).

Why were Chancellors Ken Clarke and Gordon Brown so keen on promoting PFI contracts? Because it kept the cost of providing major capital projects "off Balance Sheet" as far as the government's accounts were concerned. They could claim to be providing new hospitals without this being charged against their budget deficit, even though the eventual costs of doing things this way would be much higher (hence NHS Trusts going bust).

I'm afraid that the Official Secrets Act prevents me from identifying the hospital and companies involved, or from disclosing the outcome of my investigation of the accounts, but it was an episode towards the end of my career in the Inland Revenue that left me frustrated by the actions of my "masters" in the Treasury!

Monday 29 July 2013

Allotment plots available in Brent NOW!

A corner of my allotment at Birchen Grove
I was under the impression that there were huge waiting list at all Brent allotments but today Brent Council tweeted that there were vacant plots available immediately at 7 sites without waiting lists. I am not sure if this fact has been conveyed to people on the waiting list at other sites so here are the details:

Seven allotment sites in Brent now have plots immediately available for anyone who wants to try their hand at food growing

The vacancies are at:
  • Dors Close, Kingsbury
  • Cecil Avenue, Wembley
  • Kinch Grove, Kenton
  • Lyon Park Avenue, Alpterton
  • Sudbury Court Road, Sudbury
  • Vale Farm, Wembley
  • Woodfield Avenue, Wembley.
Allotment gardening is a great way to grow healthy food, keep active and works out a cost of just 22p a day for a standard size-five pole plot - that's about half the size of a tennis court and is big enough to grow enough fruit and veg for a small family.

Apply online for an allotment plot or call 020 8937 5619.

Twitter's creative response to 'racist van' update

The 'racist van' has spawned some creative responses on Twitter:

Historical precedent

Sunday 28 July 2013

Bennett: 5 steps to restore the NHS to the proud state Bevan intended

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett has identified a series of actions that need to be taken to save and restore our publicly owned and publicly run NHS.

Bennett was speaking at the Call 999 for the NHS rally in Darlington yesterday, organised by a concerned group of local campaigners.

She focused particularly on the need to pass Lord Owen's Bill to restore the duty of the Secretary of State to provide healthcare, and on the need to allow commissioners to choose "preferred providers", removing the pressure to put services out to tender.

Here is the full speech:

I have to begin, by congratulating the organiser of this rally, Joanna Adams. She’s demonstrated what one person can achieve when they say ‘I’m not going to take this any more’.

And congratulations to you for being hear to listen, on this glorious sunny day when the park looks so attractive.

Earlier this year, I came down with labyrinthitis, an infection of the inner ear. It isn’t a serious condition, but it is a rather dramatic one. The world suddenly started to spin wildly, and I found myself in the Green Party office, head down on the desk, unable to move.

An ambulance was called, and I was carted down in the lift and out of the office on a stretcher. As I lay on the trolley in that ambulance, a kind officer offering reassurance while filling in her paperwork, one political thought did flash through my head – “at least I’m not in America”.

I didn’t have to think about the cost of the ambulance, the cost of the high-tech tests to check I hadn’t had a stroke or didn’t have a brain tumour. I didn’t have to think of the cost of drugs, or have to leave hospital before I felt ready because of the bills.

So I was thinking – thank Nye Bevan for the NHS, for the principle, fought for and won more than six decades ago, of treatment on the basis of need, free at the point of use.

And, later, when the world had stopped spinning, I thought again, often, of how important it is to defend it.
In common with many healthcare experts, I could see even before it came into effect that the Tory-Lib Dem government’s Health and Social Care Bill was the gravest threat that the NHS had ever known.

I, with the rest of the Green Party, joined the campaign against the pernicious Bill, and Green MP Caroline Lucas voted against it.

And we pointed out the democratic deficit: that voters had not been presented with this option in any party manifesto, and that 70 MPs and 142 peers - a significant proportion of those voting on the bill - have or have had financial interests in private health care companies. (And of course we’ve seen an increasing revolving door between private sector executives and senior public administrators.)

But on that day in January, on the ambulance trolley, the campaign had a new, real, intensity for me.
It has become horrifically, horribly clear since the Bill was passed and begun to be put into effect that the worst fears of  experts like the Royal College of General Practitioners and Unison who had opposed the now Act were entirely correct.

We’ve seen an acceleration of the already extensive privatisation of health services that began in the Thatcher era and was embraced wholesale by the last Labour government.  A privatisation that saw more than 100 NHS PFI schemes signed off, with projects valued at £11 billion, and index-linked contracts which are already bankrupting NHS Trusts. (As many as 70 of these are now owned off-shore, meaning the profits are beyond the reach of British tax.)

The NHS spent £8.7 billion on private medical services last year, out of a total budget of £104 billion and that figure is expected to rise fast.  As we heard only this morning from the Guardian, the “biggest privatisation yet” is set to see a single contract worth £1.1bn let for “care for older people including end of life care” in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

And the existing NHS services are highly unlikely to be able to bid for it. Virgin, Serco or Circle, the usual roll call, are expected to bid to make profits out of care for older people.

The former Labour Government explicitly embraced competition, arguing that it was needed to make NHS providers more productive - the "grit in the oyster" argument.  But in fact, there’s strong evidence that  cooperation, not competition,  delivers the best, most cost-effective, results for patients.

Furthermore, efficiency savings were imposed on the NHS by way of the "Nicholson Challenge" and Labour didn't commit to maintaining real term health spending increases in the 2010 election.  The current government has risen to this so-called challenge with relish, overseeing  £20 billion  of  “efficiency savings” that are really just a transparent fig leaf for cuts.

We’ve seen a huge push towards private-style structures – particularly “foundation trusts” -  in the public hospitals built with public funds and often also large charitable donations.

But there’s even worse on the horizon. The drive to soften up the public for “co-payments” – to end the “free at the point of use” principle that is the most essential NHS principle at all – has clearly begun.

In April, Malcolm Grant, chair of NHS England, said he personally wouldn’t support charging for NHS services. But then went on to say: “It’s something which a future government will wish to reflect [on], unless the economy has picked up sufficiently, because we can anticipate demand for NHS services rising.”

That idea was backed by leader articles in the Financial Times and  Daily Telegraph, which also reflected on the supposed “inevitability” of charging for NHS services. This week we saw a survey of GPs encouraging the idea.

BUT – it’s not too late. It’s important to say that loudly and clearly.

The public is increasingly concerned about the state, and fate, of our NHS, despite concerted campaigns to run it down.

We’ve seen a clear attempt to stigmatise, to smear, to attack, the NHS.  Clearly, there are problems – some related to privatisation and the managerialism brought in by Labour to facilitiate it – Private Eye pointed out this week that all of the hospitals identified as problematic either were foundation trusts or were seeking that status. Some of the problems are related to underfunding, and some related to real problems of management and organisation. And they cause reasonable concern.

But it’s also clear that the public fears that privatisation – the introduction of the profit motive into the NHS – is undermining the very principles and  future of their health service. And they are right!

And so there are five clear steps that we can – and must - take.

First, we must back the National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill proposed by Lord Owen in the House of Lords.

Most importantly, in Clause 1, the Bill restores the Secretary of State for Health’s duty to provide the NHS in England. (This duty was abolished in 2012 – with responsibility to determine what is provided free transferred to the new clinical commissioning groups, which have no public accountability.)

This clause will also restore the duty to promote a comprehensive and integrated service, which the Coalition split between the NHS Commissioning Board, clinical commissioning groups, Monitor, and Health and Wellbeing Boards.

Second, we must allow commissioners to use a public “preferred provider”, rather than forcing them to put services out to tender and they must be allowed to make decisions in the public interest without being called ant-competitive. After all, we know that  private companies – not just multinational healthcare
companies but also giant feeders at the public teat such as G4S, A4E, Atos, Serco, Virgin, Circle - can demonstrate their one great skill and competitive advantage: the ability to make attractive bids for contracts, yet  as we’ve all too often found to our cost, they are not always so successful at delivering on them.

Third, we can encourage patients to give their GPs notes or postcards, as provided by the Keep Our NHS Public campaign, expressing their preference for being treated by public rather than private providers whenever this is possible.

Fourth, we must demand health funding is maintained. Spending on health fell in real terms by 0.7% in 2010 and a further 1.2% in 2011. This must not be forgotten, especially after the Coalition promised to protect NHS spending from cuts.

Finally, we must challenge every person or organisation that pushes us down the slippery slope towards “co-payments”.

We only have to look to the United States of America to see what we must avoid. We don’t want to mimic a health system that costs 18% of the GDP of the world’s wealthiest country, yet puts the US 17th out of 17 developed countries when ranked on the state of its national health.

We don’t want to emulate a system where vast profits are made by a few giant companies, which want to cherry pick the easy patients, the simple operations and conditions, while driving staff wages down and down, and leaving patients with complex needs and needing high-cost treatments stranded.

And above all we don’t want to copy a system where your access to the best health care, be it a good local GP or a specialist cancer surgeon, is determined by your ability to pay, or by a private healthcare provider’s decision on whether you meet its criteria for treatment.

We have a system which has worked – provided excellent health care free at the point of use – for 67 years. We do not want a system in which the standard of healthcare is dictated by cash, where those able to pay more are simply less likely to die than those who cannot afford to.

Let’s join together and say NO.

Let’s restore our publicly owned and publicly operated health system to the proud state that Nye Bevan intended – the health service that was established to give every Briton the best possible health care, local to them, when they need it, driven by a philosophy of care, not profit.

That’s what the Green Party believes in, what we are fighting for and what we have the genuine principles to deliver. And I know many other individuals and organisations will too. Let’s join together to rescue the NHS, and win. The principle of publicly provided healthcare free at the point of use is just too precious to lose.

Saturday 27 July 2013

Natalie Bennett supports UKYP 'Curriculum for Life' campaign

Last weekend Green party leader Natalie Bennett signed up to pledge support for the 'Curriculum for Life' put forward by the United Kingdom Youth Parliament.

At a time when Michael Gove is narrowing the curriculum it is noteworthy that school students themselves recognise that education is about more than passing examinations or preparing for employment.

The proposal is in line with the Green Party's ideas on the curriculum which favours education of the whole person.

The UKYP state:
We believe that the place of citizenship education and PSHE in the curriculum should be radically overhauled through a youth-led UK-wide review; they are really important for young people’s growth and development as they teach vital life skills and can be the first steps to engaging young people in political life. Teaching staff should be specifically trained to a national standard to deliver citizenship education following this review.
What is it we want?

  • We want a Youth Led Review of Citizenship and PSHE education

  • We want a radical overhaul of the current Curriculum which we feel fails us

  • We want a new curriculum that includes the following subjects:

    • Political education
    • Sex and Relationships education (SRE)
    • Cultural awareness
    • Community cohesion
    • Finance skills
    • Sustainable living
    • Citizenship Education Test
The Pledge for schools to sign can be download HERE

A petition supporting the campaign can be downloaded HERE

Suggestions for the new curriculum can be tweeted using #lessons4life

A round up of messages to the 'racist van'

Some of the recent messages to the 'racist van':

Horse chestnuts hit by leaf miner moth

The horse chestnuts in the Church Yard of Old St Andrew's Church in Kingsbury were particularly lovely this Spring but have been hit again by what I believe is the larvae of C. ohridella leaf miner moth.

The current infestation (the pictures were taken this morning) is the worst I have seen since the first attacks several years ago, Eventually as can be seen the tree loses its leaves prematurely.

The trees will not be permanently damaged but the attacks seem to be happening earlier and with more intensity. It makes the trees unsightly in July and August when foliage should be at its healthiest.

One recommendation is that fallen leaves of affected trees should be collected up and removed from the site and burned. This is because the pupae overwinter in the 'mines' in the fallen leaves. I am not sure how practical that is on the St Andrew's site but sure possible for isolated trees in our parks.

Removal of the leaves mean that there will be fewer attacks over the season and they will be later, giving the trees more of a breathing space.

Treewatch, in association with the Royal Horticultural Society, are monitoring the disease and welcoem your reports: LINK

Jones crunches Bone on racist van

Get the 'racist van' off the road for good this weekend

The campaign against the 'racist' vans is proceeding on several fronts as the Home Office pilot project comes to an end. The PCS has taken up the issue with the senior civil servant at the Home Office. A 'letter of intent' on legal action, probably under the Equalities Act,  has been sent by a refugee group in East London LINK and similar action is being contemplated by activists in Brent. It appears that the Home Office may not have sought planning permission for the van hoardings which raises questions of   their legality.

The Twitter campaign against the Home Office and the Promovans group has been supported widely and the trolling of the Home Office 'help line' has produced some hilarious interchanges which expose the 'Go Home' message to ridicule.

David Cameron as the head of the country's first PR government (public relations not proportional representation) as a former PR man may count the Home Office campaign as a success in getting the Coalition's 'tough stance' on immigration into the headlines but it has also served to alienate his Lib Dem Coalition partners.

Back in 1964 as a raw 16 year old I went for a job in the PR department of an advertising agency. I naively told the interviewer 'I like people'.  He instantly replied, 'That is no good. To be a success in PR you must utterly despise people'. I didn't get the job - some years later David Cameron did!

Meanwhile Green Party leader Natalie Bennett has added her voice to the debate in the Guardian:
I don't often agree with Nigel Farage, but he is right that the billboards being driven around some areas with high immigrant populations are "nasty" and "unpleasant" (Anger at 'go home' message to illegal immigrants, 26 July). The government's choice to adopt a slogan similar to that used by racists in the 70s is deeply disturbing, particularly at a time when the Muslim Council of Britain has expressed fears about a "dramatic escalation" of attacks against British Muslims. However, it is predominantly the rhetoric of Ukip that has caused immigrants to be so causally demonised by the government and other political parties. Mr Farage has spoken of "opening up our borders" to 28 million Romanians and Bulgarians, as though the entire populations of those nations were about to uproot themselves and move to the UK.

The government is clearly guilty of scapegoating immigrants for Britain's problems with housing shortages, low wages and unemployment. The fault clearly lies with its own policies, and those of the former Labour government.

Friday 26 July 2013

PCS union protests to Home Office civil servant boss over racist van camapign

From the Public and  Commercial Services Union  website LINK

A controversial Home Office immigration campaign is "political, deeply divisive and likely to stir up racial hatred", PCS has told the department's most senior civil servant.
The 'Go home' billboard messages being driven around six London boroughs have been met with criticism within the coalition government.

And some users on Twitter are reporting sightings using the hashtag #racistvan and deliberately wasting the Home Office's time with bogus reports.

We wrote to the department's permanent secretary Mark Sedwill on Thursday to say we were "appalled" that the Home Office had sanctioned the initiative.

PCS group secretary Mike Jones said in the letter: "This kind of campaign will only serve to cause more racial tension within our communities."

It's "deeply divisive", he added, and will create "tension and mistrust towards anyone who looks and sounds foreign".

"This is just a political advertising stunt that differs little from the Conservative Party election campaign messages.

"It is exactly the thing right wing racist and fascist organisations such as the BNP, EDL, EVF and others feed off" and use to "stir up racial tension and hatred in these very same London boroughs", Mike said.

We pointed out that, with a reported 500,000 backlog in asylum cases, the Home Office needs more permanent staff to deal with casework, not political stunts.

Summer Exhibition at Wembley's Coming Soon Club

The Coming Soon Club is on the corner of Wembley High Road and Wembley Hill Road, close to Wembley Stadium Station and a short walk south from Wembley Central station. Main bus routes 18, 83, 182.

Muhammed Butt debates 'racist vans' on Radio 4

Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt last night debated the issue of the Home Office 'racist vans' which are touring six London boroughs with the message 'Go Home or Face Arrest'.

The debate, on Radio 4's The World Tonight, begins at 24.25 LINK

Spare a tenner for crucial challenge to government on allotments sell-off

I donated this morning to the Farm Terrace Allotments Fighting Fund. Here's why in the Campaign's own words:

Farm Terrace Allotment site Watford has existed since 1896. It stands in the centre of the hugely urbanized town of Watford. An oasis in an Urban Jungle. However we are in the middle of a bitter war with our council and central government who want to build housing on our site. This is becoming an epidemic, as more and more councils see selling off precious allotment sites as a way of generating cash. Since 2007 there have been 132 separate applications to close down allotments under section 8 of the 1925 Allotments Act. Out of these 132 applications 97% were approved (128 cases) and only 4 cases refused. Plot holders feel powerless to protest about these closures because the government have such power – until now.

Our case shows that the Secretary of State has not applied his policy lawfully and we are going to take legal action to prove it! If we win, not only will we save farm terrace but we will strike a blow for the protection of allotments all over England as it will make it much harder for them to be developed on! As far as we are aware no decision to close an allotment site has been legally challenged before and if won would be referred to in future allotment closure applications.

Leading counsel who specialises in public law has advised that the Secretary of State’s decision is unlawful! Following this advice we have decided to challenge his disturbing decision in court but to do this we desperately need your help.

We need to raise money quickly to prove that we can fund our case. The British Government knows this and as they have shown this by agreeing to the change of use of the land even though we met all the criteria to keep it as an allotment. They didn’t take us seriously then so let’s make them take notice of us now!

Please donate as much as you can, we believe that if all our supporters gave only £10.00 each we could reach our goal very quickly. We need to do this very soon or our window of opportunity to bring it to Judicial Review will close.

If we do not raise enough money to go ahead, or if we raise more money than we need, all donations will be divided between various charities and other environmental and allotment campaigns - which have yet to be decided, unless you indicate that you would prefer your donation to be returned to you when you donate. If you do ask for this, we will be in touch to return your donation should we not use it in pursuing this legal challenge.

The allotment movement came out of a belief that everyone should have the possibility to grow their own produce near to their homes. Historically allotments are intrinsically part of the British landscape and British tradition. We believe in democratic decisions, and allotments are still needed now, more than ever. If all allotment holders keep quiet and do not stand up and be counted alongside us it is our very real fear that allotments will, in the very near future, be assigned to the history books.

Please help Save Farm Terrace. Please help save ALL allotments.


Thursday 25 July 2013

Promogroup may not participate further in 'racist van' campaign

Promogroup, the advertising agency behind the Home Office's 'racist vans' publicity stunt appear to have been thrown by the angry reaction to the campaign 

Green Party member David Walker told me this afternoon:
I just called the company.  They are passing my details on to the Home Office.  They said the campaign is close to finishing and they would reconsider carefully if they were asked to extend it or do it again.  I’ve asked for my comments to be noted on their file and I’ve left my name and number with them.
He added that the person he spoke to clearly understood his references to the EDL, mosque attacks etc.

I also spoke to the agency who said that the campaign was almost over. It had started on Monday and would finish soon. The person I spoke to would not give me a quote and said I should take up the issue with the Home Office. 

However, a few minutes later he rang back having read the postings about the van on Wembley Matters. He said  this was 'all very well but "direct action when the vans are seen in the area or we find where they are garaged" sounds a bit threatening'. I did a verbal shrug. He then struggled to say again that the campaign was finishing 'in Brent' and when I tried to pin him down said the last van would be on Saturday - the campaign had been going since Monday.  He went on to say that he wasn't  closely involved, but the agency  had received a 'variety' of calls  including some from immigrants asking for help to go home.

He didn't comment when I asked how many were asking for cabs.

Navin Shah: Home Office 'Propaganda' vans will cause harm and raise tension

The Labour London Assembly Member for Brent and Harrow  condemned the 'racist van' campaign by the Home Office in Brent and five other London boroughs.

He said: 
I know that immigration in the UK needs to be tackled, but I am shocked to see plans to drive vans around Brent and five other boroughs in London. This will have a detrimental impact on the hugely diverse and harmonious community in Brent. The problem of illegal immigration has to be tackled properly and a campaign like this will only divide and discriminate communities.

We have worked very hard to have a borough which is an outstanding example of a multi-cultural community and this discriminatory propaganda by the Home Office will cause serious harm and raise tension in the community.

Summer Blues for Copland staff and students

Copland Community School's summer term ended on a rather depressing note yesterday despite the news that the school may get money for a rebuild. We are no longer surprised when money suddenly becomes available when a school converts to academy status- all part of Michael Gove's agenda of carrot and stick (bribery and bullying).

A whistle blower commenting on the rebuild money on the Kilburn Times website:
Excellent news for students, parents and staff that a new school is to be built. However, builders can only build a school in the bricks and mortar sense. Anyone present at the final staff assembly today, when up to 60 staff left, would be aware that the pair of wrecking balls who have just taken over management of Copland will have to develop skills of a rather less agricultural nature if they are ever to hope to build a school in the sense of a community of shared interests working in an atmosphere of trust and support towards a shared educational end. Significantly, the new head and his assistant absented themselves from today's goodbyes.
Earlier I had been sent a message that put Cllr Michael Pavey's report of a 'refreshing and uplifting meeting with parents at Copland tonight. They want change for their kids: better teaching and better results' into context. 

Of course any group of parents would want the latter, and why not. As the message said:
Must be new regime fans then because everyone else wants worse teaching and increasingly terrible results, of course. Obviously everyone wants the same thing: the question is whether alienating the entire staff indiscriminately, acting on the tittle-tattle and prejudices of the  outgoing failed management, shedding 40 odd teachers and not replacing them, etc etc is the way to achieve this. Reality is, eg, Art was being dropped completely and leaving staff not replaced. When it was pointed out by staff that Art  got good results the decision was changed and they said they'd recruit new staff. Job was advertised, only one candidate turned up, completely unsuitable, post is unfilled. Shambles. Many similar examples. Good staff are being driven out. Most so demoralised that any alternative is preferable to coming back in September.
Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted said: 'If I hear staff morale is bad, I know I'm doing something right.' These over-literal clones/clowns seem to have taken this to mean:  'Complete demoralisation of staff is an absolute prerequisite of doing anything right.' It's obviously an attractive notion as achieving demoralisation of staff is a lot easier than achieving any positive good.
The source said that the meeting with parents was badly organised and union members leafleting the meeting had to show parents in and guide them through the security system. Teachers were not represented and a stand-in for one of the most active and vocal parents, who was on holiday,  was not allowed to speak as she was a teacher and 'this would not be appropriate'.

On the rebuild my informant commented:
There are Harlesden residents who are now grandmothers who were promised a new school by Sir Alan Davies when they were in Year 7. I suspect a Good News smokescreen: Lions, Ashes, Tour de France, Royal Sprog, Copland Rebuild.

More to the point was that I heard today of another young Head of Department who has decided to leave.
 It clearly won't be a relaxing holiday for many Copland staff and students.

Jenny Jones condemns Welsh Harp development decision

Today's Wembley and WillesdenObserver
Jenny Jones, Green London Assembly Member, who made a submission opposing Barratt's West Hendon development, criticised the Barnet Planning Committee's approval of the West Hendon development:
This is a short-sighted decision that will damage the integrity of the Welsh Harp SSSI. We should be protecting this space for the enjoyment of future generations and for the sake of the other species that live there.

Anger and action building on racist vans

The campaign against the 'racist vans' is attracting support across Brent and further afield. Ideas so far include direct action when the vans are seen in the area or we find where they are garaged. Send information via Twitter using #racistvan


Inundate the text number on the van advertisement for 'help in getting home' with requests for cabs etc HOME 78070

Complain to Advertising Standards Authority

Complain to advertising agency concerned Twitter: @promogroupuk

Add comments to Guardian site:

A solictors' form has contacted me re possible legal action and I'll let you know outcomes of any discussions.

Green AM Condemns Racist Vans 'Divide and Rule'

Jenny Jones, Green Party London Assembly member said today that she was appalled by the anti-immigrant advertising lorries that are to be deployed in six London boroughs. She said:
It is very worrying that old fashioned racist rhetoric about 'immigrants go home' has been resurrected by a Government advertising agency and put up on the sides of vans. This divide and rule approach by the Government on immigration has no place in a strongly multi-cultural city like London. We need to say no to the people at the top who are doing their best to divide our city.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Barnet Council approve ruination of the Welsh Harp

Outside Hendon Towen Hall
Barnet Planning Committee tonight passed the planning application for the West Hendon Development on the banks of the Welsh Harp by 5 votes to 4 after a sometimes rancorous debate.

The presentation by a planning officer of his report on the development provoked protests from Andrew Dismore AM for Barnet and Camden who said that he had never heard such a biased officers' report in 30 years involvement in politics. He said the officer was acting as a advocate for the developers rather than as someone presenting a balanced view on which the Planning Committee could make a decision.

Dismore asked why there had not been a ballot of residents of the West Hendon Estate and presented his own findings (see posting below). He said the luxury tower blocks would be for Russian oligarchs rather than local people.

Cllr Roxanne Mashari (Labour -Welsh Harp)  told the chair of the Committee that she would be writing to Barnet Council to record her concerns about the officer's presentation which amounted to a 'hard sell'. The length and veracity of the presentation had not been used for any other application.

Cllr Mashari said that when she visited the developers they had not even be aware of Brent Council's objections. She spoke about growing up near the Welsh Harp and what a much loved and  valued resource it was.  The 29 storey buildings would be an imposing and inappropriate presence looming over the reservoir.

Navin Shah AM for Brent and Harrow told the committee that the Welsh Harp was an exceptional site of tremendous value. The enormous scale of the development and its density was unsustainable.  The amount of affordable housing should have been at the target of 40% rather than the 25% in the application.

Cllr Javaid Ashraf (Liberal Democrat - Dollis Hill) told the committee that he was a former chair of the Welsh Harp JCC), He had three main concerns: density, damage to the SSSI and traffic congestion. He said he was not against redevelopment. He was supportive of 'a' scheme but not 'this' scheme.

The public loudly supported this last point. The officer's presentation had implied that the scheme should be supported because it was better than a previous scheme that had been agreed by the Planning Committee and that no other scheme was viable as it would not provide enough of a return to the developer to enable the social housing to be redeveloped.

Objectors will continue their campaign at the London Mayoral level.

Battle for the Welsh Harp tonight 6.30pm Hendon Town Hall

Despite objections from environmentalists, Brent Council, residents on the West Hendon Estate and hundreds of other residents, Barnet Planning Committee will be recommended by officers tonight to approve the redevelopment proposal from Barratt Homes. DETAILS

There will be a demonstration starting at 5pm outside Hendon Town Hall, The Burroughs, NW4 4BG. Cllr Roxanne Masharini, Brent Council lead member for the environment and Navin Shah AM are among those down to speak at the meeting which begins at 6.30pm.

If members decide to grant planning permission it will be referred back to the Mayor of London before the issue of any decision as a 'strategic development'. The Mayopr will have 14 days from the date of referral to consider whether the Council can make the decision at local level, direct that the application be refused, or choose to take the application over and determine the application himself.

One of the most power submissions is by Andrew Dismore, AM for Barnet and Camden who includes a survey of West Hendon Estate residents.  These are the results;

1. Do you think the Council have given enough priority to estate residents? Yes 8.4% No 81.3%
2. Should there be more affordable homes? Yes 84.7% No 10.1%
3a.. Do you think the scheme is too dense? Yes 83% No 10.1%
3b. Do you think the blocka re too high? Yes 84.7% No 3.4%
4. Do you wish the Council scheme to be approved? Yes 18.6% No 79.6%
5. Does the plan give sufficient attention to the wider neighbourhood near the site? Yes 6.7% No 98.8%
6. Do you want to keep York Park? Yes 89.8% No 3.3%
7. Does there need to be more parking? Yes 74.5% No 20.3%
8. Has enough thought been given to leaseholder needs? Yes 8.4% No 77.9%

Respondents: Council teneants 37.2%, leaseholder 8.4%, private tenant 10.1%, owner occupier 44%

Lorries promoting government racism in Brent condemned

Brent has been chosen as one of six borough for the dubious honour of hosting a campaign that panders to the racists of the EDL and echoes the 'Blacks Go Home' slogans of the National Front in the 70s.

In the 70s I was one of many in anti-racist groups who organised weekend actions removing  or painting over the slogans from the walls and doors of London. The slogans, often aimed at individual homes. as below, were designed to intimidate.

Now it is a government that is funding a campaign with exactly the same aims. It shows, contrary to the multi-racial bliss promoted by the government over the Olympics, that racism is now acceptable.

As a teacher I was very aware of the impact racist and anti-refugee campaigns had on children in our schools, making them anxious and insecure and sometimes ashamed of their status. This campaign will have a similar impact and seems designed to reassure the racsits that the government is taking action but will have the effect of stirring up resentment, suspicion and fear.

The choosing of Brent for such a campaign, when there was that notorious YouTube video about Wembley by a far-right racist group not so long ago is deeply offensive.

Sarah Teather MP spoke out against the campaign saying:
This is the latest in a string of Home Office announcements that are designed to make the government look tough on immigration. But I fear that the only impact of this deeply divisive form of politics will be to create tension and mistrust to anyone who looks and sounds foreign. These adverts are nothing less than straightforward intimidation and … can only have bad consequences for communities like those I represent in Brent, where people from all faiths and races have mixed for decades. We will all be much poorer for it.
Muhammed Butt, leader of Brent Council said yesterday:
Placing these posters in the most diverse borough in the UK is inflammatory and divisive. I have people in my surgeries every week who have been wrongly processed by the home office or who have come from places they simply can't return to and are now going to feel publicly threatened as a result of these posters. It's disgraceful and frankly unwelcome in our diverse and united borough.
I welcome their statements and am keen to discuss what we can do as a community once these lorries of hate are on out streets.

Monday 22 July 2013

Labour's council candidates for 2014 revealed

I've had quite a few people, from all local political parties, chasing me for news of the Labour nominations for the 2014 Brent Council elections. Below is the information I have been able to glean so far. I am not sure of the Brondesbury Park group as I understood Labour was delaying selection in the hope of getting a female candidate - the three names I have are all male.

Any additional information for the 'thrid candidates' or corrections welcome.

Candidates for Local Elections 2014
James Allie, Bhagwanji Chohan, Mili Patel
Barn Hill
Shafique Choudhury, Sarah Marquis, Michael Pavey
Brondesbury Park
Terry Hoad, Michael Adeyeye,  David Lister
Dollis Hill
Parvez Ahmed, Arshad Mahmood, (third to be confirmed)
Dudden Hill
Aslam Choudry, Krupesh Hirani, Janice Long
George Crane, Ruth Moher, Shama Tatler.
Aisha Eniola, Lloyd McLeish, Bobby Thomas
Kensal Green
Dan Filson, Claudia Hector, Matt Kelcher
Nadhim Ahmed, Syed Alam, (third to be confirmed)

Rita Conneely, John Duffy, Tayo Oladapo

Northwick Park
Lia Colacicco, Mustafa Field,  Ahmad Shazad,
Margaret McLennan,  Joshua Murray,  Keith Perrin
Matt Bradley, Pat Harrison, Jean Hossain
Queen's Park
James Denselow, Neil Nerva, Ellie Southwood
Sandra Kabir, Kana Naheerathan, Ramesh Patel
Ernest Ezeajughi, Cheryl Henry, Zaffar Van Kalwala
Abdi Aden, Mary Daly, Aisha Hoda Benn
Muhammed Butt, Orleen Hylton, Ketan Sheth
Welsh Harp
Amer Agha, Harbi Farah, Roxanne Mashari
Wembley Central
Wilhelmina Mitchell Murray, Krupa Sheth, Sam Stopp
Willesden Green
Bernard Collier, Lesley Jones, Tom Miller.

Some of the newcomers are worth checking out. Tom Miller (Willesden Green) has attracted controversy for his involvement with Labour List and association with Derek Draper who along with Damian McBride worked on plans to smear Opposition MPs under the last Labour Government. More on this website which compares him to The Office's Gareth. LINK

Sam Stopp has set up his own website which is notable for the fact that he refers to himself as Sam throughout LINK, The earth-shaking headlines include 'Sam Attends Full Council Meeting' - he sat in the public gallery! His key priority is rubbish - caused by his Labour colleagues cuts to street sweeping!