Sunday, May 28, 2017

Less than 2 weeks to Go! Forest Gate & Ilford North

Picture collage from yesterday in Forest Gate and Ilford North with our West Ham Parliamentary candidate, Lyn Brown.

The weather was mostly sunny and very warm. The sunshine and spring flowers made door knocking a pleasure. You can (usually) be guaranteed a good reception if you tell residents what a lovely garden they have.

Due to the narrowing in the polls there was an air of excitement and enthusiasm in the campaign yesterday which had been previously missing.

Off on an adventure tomorrow.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn: Standing together

On Friday I was at the speech in London by Labour leader Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, relaunching the election campaign after the bombings in Manchester.

It was a statesman like and brave absolute condemnation of hate and terrorism while pointing out that to fight terrorism and make our people safe, we have to also tackle the underlying causes. Be that massive cuts to policing and prisons, poverty and inequality or badly planned foreign wars.

This was by far the best speech I have ever seen Jeremy make. He has demonstrated that he is fit to be our Prime Minister on June 8.

This is the email that was sent out to members after his speech but check the full transcript here


Today, as Labour resumes campaigning in the General Election, I wanted to reach out to you, as a member of our party — and of our Labour family.

Our nation has been united in shock and grief. But as I watched thousands of people coming together in Albert Square in Manchester, I saw unwavering defiance too.

This attack sought to divide us, and instead we sent a powerful message of solidarity and of love. We saw so much evidence of our humanity: from the people we ask to protect us in the emergency services; from those who rushed towards the carnage to comfort the dying or offered lifts home and places to stay; from those gathered the following day in Albert Square.

So for the rest of this election campaign all of us need to stand together and we need to stand up for democracy.

Because when we talk about British values, including tolerance and mutual support, democracy is at the very heart of them.

And our General Election campaigns are the centrepieces of our democracy — rallies, debates, campaigning in marketplaces, knocking on doors, listening to people on their streets, at their workplaces and in their homes.

Together, we will be stronger. Together we can build a Britain worthy of those who died and those who have inspired us all in Manchester this week.

Thank you.

Jeremy Corbyn
Leader of the Labour Party"

Friday, May 26, 2017

Chuka Umunna Streatham PPC at UNISON Labour Link Mobilising Black Members Event

Picture collage from event on Monday evening with Streatham Labour PPC, Chuka Umunna, guest speaker to a mobilisation event in our national HQ of black members sponsored by UNISON Greater London Labour Link. I was there as Chair of that committee.

The aim was to encourage members to volunteer to campaign for Labour in the General Election. The event was run by my ace London Regional Council Officer colleague, Liz Baptiste. Other speakers included our Assistant General Secretary, Liz Snapes, Acting London Regional secretary Stephanie Thomas, London Labour Link committee member James Beckles and National officer for Race Equality, Margaret Geer. 

Chuka gave an excellent speech on why we all must support the Labour Party which was warmly received. He is bright, articulate and has the gift of powerful persuasion. 

It was a bit of a speech fest with Stephanie, Liz, Liz, James and Margaret making the case for Labour and for becoming active in the campaign and making it clear that there was an alternative choice in British politics. 

The best (and only way) to progress equality for all is if we all vote to elect a Labour Government on June 8. 

Nearly all of the UNISON members and their guests present filled out a form to volunteer for Labour in the General election. Result!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Pause to remember Jo Cox MP - Westhammers at "Arc in the Park"

A lot has happened since Sunday, when UK political parties suspended General Election campaigning for one hour in order to remember murdered young mum and MP, Jo Cox, and to visit community projects. In West Ham we stopped campaigning and visited the "Arc in the Park" project in Canning Town with our Labour Parliamentary candidate, Lyn Brown. This is now run by the charity called AAA (Ambition, Aspire, Achieve).

AAA supports disabled children and young people as well as their families. Despite cuts in Council funding the charity still provides much needed respite and support. We were given a guided tour of the sensory garden and play area by staff who were so, so proud of what they do.

After the visit many of us went back to campaign for Labour in Forest Gate.

Little did we know that while we were remembering the terrible murder by a British born fascist last year of a young woman in Yorkshire that another British born fascist was planning to murder even more girls and women in Manchester.

I am so proud to live in a country that despite significant problems of inequality and unfairness, unites against fascism in all its forms and has so many people, like Jo Cox, the staff at AAA, the emergency workers in Manchester, who have dedicated their lives to the public service of others. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Re-elected to UNISON NEC for a 4th term

I was really pleased to get confirmation on Tuesday that I had been re-elected unopposed as the UNISON Community representative on our National Executive Council (General seat) for a 4th two year term of office.

I did think that I had an opponent again this time but for whatever reason this didn't happen. I am surprised that I haven't so far come across any deranged conspiracy theories on why this was so but no doubt this will turn up somewhere.

The election results for our NEC this year was mixed and we have lost (in my view) some fantastic activists who were not elected and will be sorely missed but also some outstanding successes.

The long and the short of it, is that the forces of light and reason (in my view) still have a clear majority of seats on the UNISON NEC.

I am also sure that many of those, who for various reasons, were not part of my particular preferred slate this time, will want to work collectively to build, grow and support our union.

Some of those will not but such is life.

I am really appalled at the low turnout of members in this election. I know that this is not just a UNISON problem and other unions have similar awful turnouts in their internal elections. Tory anti-trade union legislation makes it really difficult but I think all of us need to think about how we can encourage member participation in all future elections.

I have some thoughts which I will share another time. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Manchester Bombing - We stand together

Last night I was just about to go to bed when I saw a "breaking news" email on my IPAD about a bombing in Manchester. I spent the next 30 minutes or so on the BBC news website. Then feeling pretty helpless, I went to bed pretty sick and ashamed that fellow human beings had deliberately gone out to murder young children and their mothers.

Today I was at work holding a trade union surgery in a East London housing office. During lunch time I was talking to fellow workers in the communal kitchen when the 1pm news came on the television and updated us with the latest on this vile crime.

At first everyone was quiet and listened in shock and horror at further reports on the murder. Then we started talking about it, how we had first heard about it, what we first thought, what we feared, what we now wanted. The sense of a common and collective outrage reminded me of similar conversations nearly 10 years ago in another east end housing office, only a few hundred yards away after the 7/7 bombings.

On that day it was more personal since it was local and happened during work time. Many of us in the office had friends and relatives commuting into central London.

The murder of the innocents brought back yet another time, just over 20 years ago, in that same housing office as 2007, when I went out on an estate visit and when I came back I found most of the staff were openly crying in the office, as the news on the radio about the Dunblane Primary school massacre had come out.

Each event was uniquely horrible and horrific. But being able to share the horror with work colleagues and see their anger is your anger, their disgust is your disgust and coming together and being united in our common pain was the one positive thing I felt to come out of all these hateful acts.

There is indeed more that unites us than divides us.

Hat tip picture Andrew A

Monday, May 22, 2017

Assaults against housing staff survey 2017

If you work in social housing please spend 10 minutes filling out this important Inside Housing annual survey here. Violence at work is a key issue. A member of my branch executive has only recently returned to work after several weeks off following an attack.

Constant low level abuse and threats can also result in real health problems for staff.

In order to do something about this you firstly you need to know what is the range and scale of the problem.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Campaigning in Forest Gate North & Ilford North 20 May 2017

Yesterday morning I started off campaigning in Forest Gate North with local Councillor, Anamul Islam and activists. It was also the first time that my wife, Gill, had actually knocked on doors and spoke to residents about supporting Labour.

It was the usual, rock solid and humbling Labour vote in Forest Gate.

The weather held out during the morning but on route to Ilford North to support marginal Labour Candidate, Wes Streeting,  there was a torrential downpour, which set the scene for the rest of the day.

West Ham Labour activists met up with our candidate, Lyn Brown, at the Ilford North HQ. Lyn had been out that morning with a number of different groups including West Ham Labour Women's Forum (see picture collage top left) who also turned up for afternoon Ilford North session led by the one and only, Cllr Seyi Akiwowo.

During the canvass in Ilford North the weather was on the whole a little wet but I think electors are impressed with canvassers who turn up to meet them and listen to their views regardless of the weather.

I got a shock while door knocking on at one home. I could see a dog's nose sticking out of a cat flap in a front door that Cllr Seyi had sent me to canvass. I thought nothing of it but when I knocked on the door the dog started barking violently and then stuck its whole head out of the cat flap! For a moment I thought it was coming out to get me and I jumped backward very quickly, much to the amusement of the team (see the wolf - bottom right).

Apart from that it was a largely positive canvass for Wes, with many residents saying they will support him due because he is a very good and active constituency MP. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Newham Council AGM 2017 (The Selfie)

This may not be very dignified but I do like this picture of some Newham Councillors after our Council Annual General Meeting on Thursday.

The meeting itself in the Old Stratford Town Hall was pretty formal. I missed the first bit since I had a General Election Agents meeting with the ERO at East Ham Town Hall. Long serving Councillors (25 years) Andrew Baikie (bottom left of photo) and Ian Corbett were given a present as was the Newham Young Mayor. The Newham Mayor spoke about his many achievements over the years.

Afterwards there was a drinks and canapes reception and this selfie was taken by our youngest Councillor, Seyi Akiwowo, on the stairs of the old Town Hall after an attempt to take to take a formal photograph of all councillors fell apart in confusion. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

"Why fossil fuel divestment isn't the answer"

Last month I went to a well attended public meeting on this topic in Forest Gate Coffee7 and a Chatham House rules seminar in the City. This article today in Professional Pensions reflects what I think and said at those meetings.

John Gray says it's better to reduce carbon exposure over a longer period while seeking suitable alternative investments

I am sure that many pension trustees will have been approached by both beneficiaries and climate change activists concerned about investments in fossil fuel industries. In local government the pension funds are often seen as belonging to the council so residents are also lobbying councillors and pension board members about divesting from carbon.
‎Like so many things about pensions, this topic is important but complex and definitely in the 'difficult box'. From my perspective as a councillor on one Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) and as a union-appointed pension board member on another, I firstly try to make it clear that local government pension funds belong to its active members, its deferred members, its pensioners and dependents. Not to the council and definitely not to councillors.
The fund must be invested in the interests of beneficiaries.
Secondly, unlike in the private sector, there is no Pension Protection Fund for the LGPS nor does it have an explicit crown promise like other public sector schemes. 
While it may be unthinkable for many good reasons to imagine an LGPS fund going bust, trustees and those responsible for pensions have to think the unthinkable and in reality, who really knows what will happen in the long term? Due to the LGPS employer contribution cap, if future pension cost is more than 13% then either staff will have to pay more or benefits will be reduced.
What campaigners, who are rightly deeply concerned about the risk of climate change, should be doing is not just lobbying councillors and their officers, but building links and engaging with council staff and their trade unions. It is after all their deferred pay, their pension future, their money.
This doesn't mean that council pension funds should not be examining both the real financial risks ‎of investing in carbon industries but also be conscious of the impending Armageddon of our planet if we do not control our carbon emissions. 
Existing investments in carbon are usually valued on the basis of their proven reserves of coal, oil or gas. It is becoming clear that much of these reserves may never be mined or pumped out, since if they were to do so it would burn the planet. These so called 'stranded assets' are therefore likely to destroy the value of investments in carbon industries.
While to me the case for disinvestment in carbon is unanswerable, I do not feel divestment is the answer. Many calls for divestment want pension funds to sell all their carbon investments within five years. Disinvestment is a call to reduce exposure to carbon over a longer period while seeking suitable alternative investments.
It is probable that the use of fossil fuels will continue but hopefully we will see a significant reduction. It is arguable that at this time there are not sufficient alternative 'green' energy investment opportunities available. This will change but when?
I also feel tactically that calling for the divestment rather than disinvestment from carbon will play into the hands of climate change and other ESG sceptics in the industry, who would relish the opportunity to attack and rubbish total divestment, when they know that the case for disinvestment over time is so powerful.
Do not underestimate the resistance to such change in the industry. While there is much good practice, many professional practitioners may 'talk the talk' on climate change issues but are in reality 'greenwashing'. Beware!
John Gray is a member of Tower Hamlets Council Pension Board, writing in a personal capacity