Saturday, 29 June 2013

the kind of world this is

Hundreds of millions are still starving in a world that could feed us all.

Millions are dying of preventable diseases, in a world that has medicines and the know-how to treat their illnesses.

Hundreds of millions of people, whose skills and labour could be a benefit to society, are idle because it is not profitable to employ them.

Wars rage in 30 countries, with more and bigger wars prophesied for the future – over oil and water and other diminishing resources.

Hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent on ever more ingenious methods of taking life and thousands of the best scientific minds are involved in this "business".

In a world of potential abundance, in a world in which we have the means to provide every human on the planet with a comfortable standard of living, the above takes place. How sad and obscene. How hollow the word "civilisation" sounds in Capitalism.

Homelessness, poverty, unnecessary deaths, war, stress, want, fear and insecurity. All this we can safely predict. This is a certainty. For this, regardless of what the apologists for capitalism would have you believe, is the legacy of Capitalism in the 21st century.

The real challenge of the 21st century, however, still stands before us - to create a society where the happiness and good of one is the condition of the happiness and good of all.

We have the resources, both human and material, to achieve this. What we do not have is the will or understanding.

As a well known thinker once said, the philosophers have merely interpreted the world; the real task is to change it. And may it speed the day.

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Friday, 28 June 2013

Why I'm Standing In Canning Town North

It was late on Wednesday evening, that I decided to take a giant step forward and resolved to stand as an ‘Independent Socialist’ candidate in next year's local elections being held here in Newham. 

To be truthful I've considered this prospect a few times before, but always deciding against the idea in the end; however this time things are much different and I feel very strongly that a true and committed socialist’ ought to step up to the line and stand on a No Cuts, No Tory, No Labour anti-austerity platform. 

The ward that I will stand in is my home ward of Canning Town North, a stronghold of the Labour Party, as indeed is Newham Council which is run by Sir Robin Wales and 60 Labour Councillors, no opposition. 

So what we have here is a full council all the seats are held by Labour, the last council before this did have a small opposition of Respect and a Christian right wing party which held all three seats in my neighbouring word in Canning Town South but Labour defeated them at the last local elections four years ago. 

More about Sir Robin and Labour domination in the future, for this post I think a bit more information would be helpful to the reader and I will keep all informed to both progress and campaign development as I move on with it, and I would indeed appreciate feedback and comments as well as any good sound advice.

The London Borough of Newham is situated just 5 miles east of the City of London. We were the host borough for the 2012 Olympics. One of the nice things that I like about Newham is its multicultural diversity, the borough has one of the highest ethnic minority populations in the country, with no one particular ethnic group dominating. 

Newham has the youngest overall population and one of the lowest White British population in the county and according to the 2011 Census, we have the second highest percentage of Muslims in Britain. 

To Canning Town then, which is located in the area of the old former London docks, which is on the north side of the Thames, its famous Rathbone Market now gone (recently) has made way for a block of luxury flats, starting price in the £ 200,000 region and sits pretty and truly beautiful to the rich and much better off in our society, but ironically opposite a hostel for the homeless, more about that hostel in later postings. So despite all the Dockland developments, Canning Town remains among the 5 per cent most deprived areas in the UK with local people suffering from poor health, low educational attainment and drenched in poverty. 

We are currently undergoing regeneration, a programme instigated by the council and I will argue as I had in the past on this blog that feeds into the gentrification of London and the onward march of the rich into areas of the working class. This £3.7 billion project aims and so the council claims to create thousands of new jobs two new improved town centres, I must add at a time when the high street is being deserted by retail. As for the creation of employment, as of yet; I've not seen any tangible evidence that this has been the case with construction labour particularly concerning as we suffer the effects of high unemployment. 

In the past people used to call themselves Towners, a term not heard-of much these day’s, I suppose fashions come and go but one thing has stayed the same, and that's the inequality and deprivation of the poor in our inner cities such as it is in Canning Town. 

It is because of this and the environment of austerity, that it seems the right thing to do, standing as an ‘Independent Socialist’ in next May’s elections. I'm under no illusions as to what this entails in an area that still weighs-in the Labour vote, but a line must be drawn in the sand, the socialist case against cuts to services must be put, and my intention god willing is to do just that.

So with much to think through in terms of tactics, strategy and profile I'm going to leave this post here for now but rest assured I intend to share all my strategies plans and thoughts on this blog which will be used as an essential tool in my forthcoming campaign, hope you all continue to follow my progress and onward movement.

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Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Hello Sailor - Tribute to Sailors of the English Revolution

I thought it might be a good idea to start a little weekly look back at East London life past and possibly present, to recall and remember a rich and radical past of the place that I call my home.

I’m not an East Ender originally (but then again who is) of course, but nevertheless after almost 30 years I'm one now.

So here we go then a glimpse of a radical past.

Hello Sailor

Many of the riotous protests that fired up the early days of the English Revolution in London were led by sailors; at the time the country was beginning to take on its dominant place in world maritime history and as a naval power, and of course London became an important merchant dock.

In East London, Wapping and Shadwell grew in size and came to be very squalidly crowded with not only dockers, but sailors who worked the navel, privateer and merchant ships, many having been pressed-ganged into service following a drunken night-out in some local tavern or other; just imaging the area then, does it not conjure up thoughts of what it must have been like back then, sordid and dirty tavens, the brothels and lodging houses without the triple A’s. Nothing like today's residents and inhabitants made up of the rich and famous celebrities who live in the converted warehousing, but of course there is still a working class community resident but now dwindling?”

So back to the thread of this post; the conditions for the sailors were absolutely atrocious, terrible and lethal to say the least, many ships being sunk by war or weather, such was this hard life, made worse especially in the Navy by the years you could be waiting to get paid. Sailors often waited so long for wages they had to steal and loot just to survive.

In the 1620s and 30s there were several sailors riots down Wapping way over pay and conditions. In 1626 for example, sailors from the Cadiz expedition, which was basically an ill-equipped, mismanaged mess in the opening wars against Spain, mutinied in the London Docks over pay arrears. They attacked the grand home of William Russell, Treasuring the money of the Navy, breaking down his great gates; which in turn Russell sent for the City Militia for protection. The end came when he was able to talk the sailors into going home, indeed he was lucky.

Nonpayment and arrears of wages were still the cause and condition leading to many more such disturbances in Wapping over the years and even the wives of sailors had their own riot, crying out “this comes of your not paying our husbands”.

So wives in support of their men in dispute is not such a new thing after all.

Wapping shipwrights were another group that had grievances to vent, they had a reputation as being defiant (a good thing) of authority; on Mayday 1617 local apprentices rioted, beating up the local Sheriff and chasing him away from his home.

History tells us that Wapping and Shadwell remained the haunts of sailors for centuries, its lodging houses were overwhelmingly filled with men and sailors of the sea and their wives and sweethearts into the 19th century. As late as the 1930s sailors (in the main from Africa, India and Pakistan) lodged in the western part of Cable Street, an area long infamous’ for brothels and rowdiness. A 1950s wave of polemic and controversial public debate about prostitution and bad housing led to the demolition of much of the area. Its inhabitants, mainly Pakistanis and Indians, relocated to Brick Lane and Spitalfields, swelling the then small Asian population there.

So I hope this has given the reader a small but informative glimpse into an ocean of history by our class and social grouping forefathers struggles to change their lives, improve living standards and working towards a radical overthrow of the social conditions they lived under, for it is true, Eastenders have always been ready to stand together and kick up a fuss, that was seen when they supported the 500 printers sacked by Rupert Murdoch in 1986, it was evident when 162 cyclists some of us Eastenders were arrested and held all night on buses on the opening night of the Olympics last year, long may that struggle continue until we win that new day!”

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Sunday, 23 June 2013

into the abyss they will fall

The gravity and plight of many homeless people; that has now exploded onto our streets, has given me great cause for worry, a dangerous, difficult or otherwise unfortunate predicament and as a result of government inaction to further the progress of social housing, along with policies that support only the promotion of the private sector in housing provision, not to mention the cuts, bedroom tax, benefit regime and a systematic attack upon working people in general is leading us into a crisis of enormous proportions.

Housing has long been my field of fight going back a good 30 years and more, have worked on two occasions in my life as a homeless advice and general welfare worker. But never have I seen or ever imagined that we would be living in a society that now sweeps people out onto the streets without blinking an eyelid.

So common is it in London to see people sleeping rough on the streets, it’s so bad, that you have to be careful not to trip over them, their very public existence is an indictment upon our cruel society. And society is cruel if not excessively so when in our modern era many are forced to sleep on the pavements of our streets whilst rows of houses stand empty, an estimated 72,000 in London alone and more than 6,000 are council owned by 33 London local authorities whilst record numbers show an endless and ever expanding demand for social housing.

All this makes no sense at all when you consider that people sleeping rough in London has risen by a staggering 13 percent in the last year and 113 percent since 2007.

Boris Johnson (the bike) our hugely funny Mayor, had a scheme to bring back into use empty properties but that's come to a virtual halt, his thinking could be that with property demand of housing ownership being at an all time high, better to save the £3.6 million he had put aside for the scheme and let the market quench its thirst.

This is  consequently a very concerning time for homelessness in London and indeed Great Britain as a whole: the weakening and concerted attack on welfare protection in a context of wider recession and housing market pressures is already having a negative effect on those most vulnerable to homelessness, with the prospect of much worse to come. In England specifically, policy measures which are weakening the housing safety net previously available to those in greatest need may further exacerbate homelessness, no government has ever been able or as I would argue been willing to effectively tackle the housing and homeless problem, and this can only be done when housing is taken out of the influence and stranglehold of the private developers and property speculators, and our society becomes civilised and complete by making housing a foundation of completeness when it is free at the point of need.

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Thursday, 20 June 2013

People's Assembly or a day out for the champagne socialist set

Over 3,500 people I believe, are now registered for the People’s Assembly Against Austerity that meets here in London on Saturday. And local Assemblies’ have already been held around the country which by all accounts have been well attended; so in this post I'm going to think out loud my own thoughts on the prospects and what I think may be the eventual outcome of this initiative and bold new venture by it has to be said; the same crew who in the recent past have set up other projects such as the much acclaimed at the time of conception; Coalition of Resistance, before that, Stop the War movement led by the champagne socialist set, of what I call, we have all the answers fringe - who at times act like ornamental threads left loose that only hang with tassels and do a lot of twists,they are not of the mainstream but on the peripheral of the movement if that is a fair description, whilst occupying the commanding heights of protest and controlled (by them) agitation and the mixing of excitement sometime dampened down.

However, apart from me trying to be a vampire slayer, I do acknowledge that there are thousands of anti-cuts activists, trade unionist and ordinary working, non working people who would like to see a tide of activity that sweeps austerity away and with it the government. So what are the chances of this happening, will this new movement in the making succeed, have the self appointed leaders fronting the project got the formula, that missing link to a working class win?”

I don’t think that question has of yet an answer, unless you are able to make predictions of certainty, and I can’t do that. But I can say; that being sceptic means I'm not expecting a lot from the likes of Owen Jones, Ken Loach, Diane Abbott (for gods sake) and a cartload of trade union leaders.

If they muck this one up it will only serve to discredit their standing in the broader movement and in the valley of working people. Speaking personally I don’t have any faith in this shindig and have decided not to participate in what I see as an attempt to argue that its OK to continue reforming capitalism in the interests of working people through parliament; many have tried and the many have failed, the Labour Party is testament to all that’, and I better add that this does not mean, not standing working class candidates who if elected would stand as a conduit and challenge this institution of the establishment as well as propagating the ideas of our class interests, this has never been done with only the honourable exception of a few MPs including those comrades elected in the 80s and associated with the then newspaper Militant.

The fact is, we cannot do anything through parliament as presently arranged in any sort of neat attractive order for the majority of working people, we cannot plan for the future or meet the needs of our people in this set-up, but parliament could be used as I say; as a conduit for conveying ideas to change the present order of things, not just at home but overseas too.

Anyhow, I'm drifting away off course.

I would like to think that the People’s Assembly Against Austerity could be a starter motor for putting into motion an agitation of excitement, that brings people out onto the streets reclaiming with an internal combustion, igniting into active communities that have been shattered by the last three years of austerity and cuts. Oh, and such a movement could hold great potential and a capacity to awaken our class from its slumber. However given the experience of the most recent past... don’t hold your breath.

The blogger Mark Wight has penned an excellent post which is well worth popping over to for a read, he quickly points to possible failings and brings clarity to what needs to be done without being sectarian, and I wish the same could be said for some of the champagne socialists sitting on the top table as usual. You can visit marks blog and post by clicking here

So I wish all those attending Saturdays events, I wish you all the very best and hope disappointment will not demoralise or lower spirits. I like this quote from William Morris and have chosen it to end this post as it gives us something to think about and brings perspective.

“One man with an idea in his head is in danger of being considered a madman: two men with the same idea in common may be foolish, but can hardly be mad; ten men sharing an idea begin to act, a hundred draw attention as fanatics, a thousand and society begins to tremble, a hundred thousand and there is war abroad, and the cause has victories tangible and real; and why only a hundred thousand? Why not a hundred million and peace upon the earth? You and I who agree together, it is we who have to answer that question.”

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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Newham Council bid to stop the local betting shop fails at the first fence

Yesterday, was not a good day for my local council here in the London Borough of Newham, which if you didn't already know (see my last post) is one of the poorest and most deprived in the country, high unemployment, child poverty and to top all that off, we have one of the highest early death mortality rates in the UK.
I suppose, when people are as poor as they are in Newham, the temptation to have a little flutter down at the local betting office in the hope of winning a bit more money can be alluring, powerful and seductive to many, so much so that we have 82 such outlets in the Borough, that's six for every square mile. I would argue, that so bad is it that you fall over them every time you set foot out of the front door; on a relatively small stretch of the Barking Road near to where I live in Canning Town I have counted four of them operated by different facilitators of gambling, all big multinationals like Paddy Power who won its appeal at Thames magistrates court against a refusal by the council, to allow it to open another betting shop in its area.
In February councillors rejected an operator's licence to Paddy Power, arguing and citing evidence that the shop would attract crime and what they considered would be antisocial behaviour, and that profits would come mostly from the installation of high-speed, high-stakes gambling machines rather than the old traditional over the counter placed bets.
But nevertheless, the judge in using legal language and said that it was not “proved that the granting of the licence would not be reasonably consistent with the objective of preventing crime and disorder. He, district judge Paul Goldspring (an appropriate name) said in summing up; “Therefore I disagree with the decision of the (council’s) subcommittee: and, in light of the evidence before me, it was wrong.”
Before I  continue I have this to say about Paul Goldspring, more of an observation really, but an actual fact that matters. Goldspring was only appointed District Judge with effect on 3 June, on the advice of Chris Grayling MP the Lord Chancellor, so it may be that the judge has an inclination to support the opinions of government and its free market philosophy, and when considered in that light it's then likely that he upholds that doctrine before anything else, even the harm that gambling may do to those who can least afford it.
So Goldspring seems not to have considered the harmful effects that gambling has and may have on the the gambler, such as they can’t control the impulse to gamble, even when they know their gambling is hurting themselves or their loved ones.
Only last week the herald Scotland reported that a gambler launched a vicious attack on shop staff after losing heavily, he was given a lifelong restriction banning him from all shops and a two years and eight month prison sentence.
Stephen Timms one of our local MPs here in Newham and a former Treasury Minister, who gave evidence to the judge said that the spread of betting shops, could lead to violence spilling out onto the street.
He also said: “The proliferation of these shops and these very addictive terminals within them is destroying people's lives. We are seeing families broken up and houses repossessed.”
However it has to be said that Timms was a member of the last Labour government that brought in the 2005 Gambling Act which has led to the proliferation of the casino-style machines.

Meanwhile Newham council considers its next move which may be a judicial review. 
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Sunday, 16 June 2013

Death the Cost of Austerity

There is a booming business here in East London, it’s not what you would expect… or then again would you? But even death has its financial rewards for some who are in the business of providing a service for the deceased and their families. Oh … yes’ the undertaker’ is onto a nice little earner in my part of the world.

A local paper has revealed that early mortality rates in its area are among the highest in the country – with more people dying prematurely in Tower Hamlets than anywhere else in the capital which in this day and age I find shocking, but it has to be said not surprising when you consider the cuts being made to the NHS and other services that people have relied on in times of sickness.

Tower Hamlets has become the 137th worst local authority out of 150, with 347 deaths of under – 75s per 100,000 residents, and my own locality Newham, only ranks marginally better, coming in at 116th, with 316 early mortalities per 100,000 people.

National Health Service reforms by the government has meant that since April, local authorities have been given a bigger say in the service, whatever that means? I don’t suppose a great deal at a time when most are preoccupied with cutting or rigging up with plasters existing services to their communities.

The conditions in which people are born, live work and age, shape their health. The poor not only die sooner, they also spend more of their lives with a disability, an “avoidable difference which is unacceptable and grossly unfair. The fact is, life expectancy is linked to social standing in society as it has always been despite any hard won improvements and the laying of the foundation stones to a welfare state now being demolished, but today it has declined (forced) backwards in this the age of austerity.

Since poverty is relative to health;all the more will the poor suffer from diseases related to inadequate diets, lack of exercise, smoking, poor pay, and job insecurity.

"As scholars or public health and political economy, we have watched aghast as politicians endlessly debate debts and deficits with little regard for the human costs of their decisions"
David Stucker and Sanjay Basu writing in the New York Times: How Austerity Kills

Having spent time studying a decade of medical information two academics,David Stucker and Sanjay Basu have concluded that austerity is bad for health.

With more than 10,000 suicides and a million cases of depression during what they call the “Great Recession” and the austerity that followed, they cite examples such as Greece, which has seen the rate of Aids-causing HIV virus increase by 200pc as its health budget is butchered and cut. High youth unemployment has gone hand in glove it seems with a tragic increase in drug abuse, speeding up the spread of the virus among the young.

In Britain, they inform us that 10,000 families made homeless have been pushed already under this government into the misery and suffering of the austerity budget’s which of course Labour now say is a necessity that they would not change if successful in being elected into office, which poses the question who speaks now for the majority of ordinary working people in Britain; that’s probably another post in its own right.  

And now we are told that a staggering £2 million has been squandered on gagging orders preventing staff speaking out, revealed under the Freedom of Information Act when a Tory MP Steve Barclay (for gods sake) obtained the figures.

So in conclusion, we will never have a health service that meets the needs of people so long as the profit and market system are allowed to hold health to ransom by behaving like mercenaries burning down the village of our National Health Service.    

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Friday, 14 June 2013

Homelessness set to become a crime

The number of homeless households in England has reached its highest level in five years, official figures show.

According to government statistics, the number of people declared homeless across England has increased by 6 percent over the past year.

There were 53,540 homelessness acceptances in the financial year 2012-13, compared with 50,290 in 2011-12.

The figures also indicated a 14 percent rise in the number of people living in temporary bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation in the last year.

Some 4,500 households were in B&Bs on 31 March this year, compared to 3,960 in 2012.

The housing and homelessness charity Shelter warned that the rising cost of housing and cuts to the housing benefit are having a real impact on British families struggling to make ends meet.

There is evidence that suggests that austerity measures imposed in response to the crisis of capitalism in other countries – such as Greece and the US – have harmed the physical and mental health of people.

In Stockport there has been a 42 percent rise in the number of people without homes in the last year alone; local shelters being so overwhelmed has meant some people have turned to living in local caves, as is the same in Nottingham.

One thing is for sure, and that’s things are set to get far worse for tens of thousands who will it increasingly looks, be made homeless as the bedroom tax starts to kick-in.

And as to pour more petrol onto an already burning fire of despair, homelessness could become a crime under the proposed new anti-social laws as outlined in the recent Queen’s speech, this includes new powers given councils the regressive rights to stop certain activities by the way of Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs).  

As currently drafted, the PSPOs could be used by councils for actions including banning spitting, banning homeless or young people from parks and open spaces, banning begging or rough sleeping and the banning of smoking in outdoor public places. 
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