Monday, March 31, 2008

Homes for Londoners: Manifesto for Affordable Homes.

This morning I was invited to attend the launch of Ken Livingstone’s and the Labour GLA candidates “Housing Manifesto”.

This took place at a new build scheme just off the Limehouse Cut, in Tower Hamlets, East London. The scheme was built by East Thames HA and is a mixture of homes for rent, key workers, shared ownership and outright private sales.

The local “City and East Labour” assembly member, John Biggs, (who I last saw on Saturday) and the London wide assembly member (and UNISON Housing Association branch member) Murad Qureshi were also both there.

It was surprisingly relaxed and even quite jolly despite the presence of TV crews and Press. Ken seemed confident and “chipper”. The East Thames CEO, June Barnes, probably had the most stress. A broken window, some rude graffiti or a irate tenant could have been embarrassing. In housing, if it can happen, it usually does.

Ken was given a tour of the estate and went inside a couple of flats. The local residents seemed very pleased with their homes. While staff also seemed quite happy as well (I should have checked how much the 24/7 concierges are paid? London Living wage of at least £7.20ph I hope June?).

Housing is of course a key issue in the election. There is pretty clear red water between Ken and Boris over “Homes for Londoners”.

Ken is planning for 50,000 new affordable homes over the next 3 years. He has secured over £1 billion for housing investment. Most importantly Ken has stressed that 50% of all new build in London should be affordable, while Boris has pledged to get rid of this requirement.

Many, many years ago, former Labour Party deputy leader, Herbert Morrison was reputed to have said that he would “build the Tories out of London” by building Council estates in Tory marginal wards (his biographers deny this – however, Morrison’s grandson is after all Peter Mandleson – so...).

Whatever the truth of the matter, it is clear that if Boris gets in he will support the Tory boroughs in London with their “class cleansing”. The Tories are already trying to get out of building practically any affordable homes. Instead they want high price and luxury developments which their Political supporters will move into.

Ordinary Londoners cannot already afford to live in many London boroughs and if Boris and the Tories win then, we will see even more segregation according to income in London.

Picture is of Ken and John with the Labour candidate for the Millwall by-election in the Isle of Dogs, Doros Ullah (May 1 as well). I first came across Doros when he use to Chair the Council Appeals committee. On which I use to represent Council employees who had been dismissed. I didn’t obviously agree with all the committee decisions, but I felt they heard out our appeals fairly. He is a good bloke (and a health & safety advisor!) I wish him well. Due to an unhealthy emphasis in the past on private development and the lack of affordable housing, Millwall, which was usually a safe Labour ward, now has 3 Tories representing it. Nuf said?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Housing Officers: Robocop or Social Worker?

Housing officers must become more like support workers”. This is from “Inside Housing” the leading weekly “sector” magazine for those of us who work in Social Housing. On its front page this week it reveals that a summit was held with Housing Minister, Caroline Flint, Welfare reform minister (and Newham MP) Stephen Timms, “and key housing association and council chiefs”. Housing Corporation Chair, Peter Dixon presided. So all the “big guns” in social housing were present. No mention mind of any resident associations or trade union representatives being present I notice?

The wholly laudable aim of the summit was the need to tackle the “Spiralling unemployment levels in social housing”. Research was found during the course of the recent Professor John Hills review of social housing that found that more than half of all social tenants of working age were without paid work- twice the national average. The proportion of employed social tenant households fell from 47% to 32% between 1981 and 2006.

While I am certain that many housing officers would be really pleased to do anything to reduce unemployment in the estates they help manage (and in fact this would be a welcome step back towards traditional social housing values). I am rather cynical about how this idea would actually pan out in practice. This is not just simply trade unions whinging about yet another responsibility being given to already overstretched and under resourced front line housing officers (even though this is of course true). It also seemed to be somewhat contradictory to other recent announcements and government policy decisions. Some housing associations are currently considering whether or not to seek accreditation powers from the Police for housing officers to be able issue fixed penalty notices for Public Order offences and other anti-social behaviour offences. Is it possible for housing officers to have a quasi-police officer and social worker role at the same time?

The accusation is that it is too easy in such “summits” to come up with fine sounding solutions and delegate responsibility for carrying out grand announcements to already stressed out front line staff. I suspect that there needs to be a little more “joined up thinking” on this problem?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

West Ham Labour Stall for Ken & John

It was a little bit windy, but the rain held off long enough, for West Ham Labour Party CLP to swing into action and do their bit for the London Mayor and GLA elections.

We had a street stall outside the Stratford Shopping centre from 11-1pm today. Our local MP, Lyn Brown, and City and East London Assembly member, John Biggs, were also out and about with us, handing out leaflets and chatting to local residents.

There were 5 party members called John present, which must be some sort of a record. We were competing with enthusiastic Oxfam fund raisers and a Christian group who were handing out religious traits.

However, we had a secret weapon – Free Labour Party and TULO balloons! Handing out leaflets can sometimes be a dispiriting experience. However, if you give out free balloons, then you get the unusual experience of mums and dads queuing up to see you. All parents had to get a “Vote Ken” leaflet in exchange for a balloon and of course all toddlers had to promise faithfully to vote Labour when they are old enough.

For the first time I had a decent political conversation with an East European builder, who while agreeing to vote for Ken and John, was also complaining about the Blackwell tunnel and the time he has to spend commuting to jobs. While I later had a wide reaching debate with a retired Warrant Officer from the Royal Green Jackets, who was unhappy about the level of leasehold service charges on his flat. Luckily, I had Newham Councillor, Winston Vaughan (ex- Royal Transport Corp and Aden veteran) who was able to charm a promise from this new comrade to vote Labour at the next election.

One young man approached us and asked what was the difference between Nazi’s (National Socialists) and the Labour Party, since both called themselves “socialists”. He referred to our Labour Party banner which had the logo “Fighting for Socialism” on it. I think he was genuine. John Whitworth very reasonably responded that there are huge differences and that Nazi’s believe in theories such as racial superiority, while socialists believe in fraternity and co-operation between all people. The young chap seemed to walk away satisfied with this explanation.

Next week Green Street. After that, who knows – after all, who can avoid the lure of a free, bright red Labour Party Balloon?

(Picture of West Ham MP and UNISON member Lyn Brown with one current Labour voter and 2 future ones!)

Friday, March 28, 2008

London is Safer (Much Safer) under Ken

The crazy, crazy thing about the current London Mayor and GLA elections is that when you state the fact that London is safer under Ken and a Labour dominated GLA, you often get blank expressions in return. People say “Crime is down in London? I thought it has gone up”?

The London Evening Boris and the rest of the Tory media have obviously had a malign effect. The actual truth is that the average decline in crime for the last 3 years is 5.5%.

“The number of murders in London has fallen every year for the last five years, from 222 in 2003 to 160 last year. This is a reduction in murder by 28 per cent - even more than the 19 per cent fall in crime in the same period. Rape has fallen by 25 per cent. Gun crime by 22 per cent. Racist crime has been reduced by 55 per cent while I have been in office”.

Before Ken was in charge and when the Tories were in control they reduced the number of Police in London due to spending cuts. This resulted in murders increasing by 70 per cent and rapes by 72 per cent.

Ken and the Labour GLA have increased the number of London Bobbies by 6,000, and when you add more than 4,000 Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs), this means an increase by 10,000 in uniformed officers. He wants another 1,000 uniformed officers this year.

I have lived and worked in London for over 20 years and I have never seen so many uniformed Police officers on the streets of London as I have in recent years. People may have issues with Ken over various political issues but over tackling crime he has been solid and determined. There is still a lot more to do, but what we don’t want is a cost cutting buffoon to take over and wreak things (hello boris)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The "Poplar Rebellion" & LGPS Fiduciary Obligations

At the UNISON Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) seminar on Tuesday I was surprised to see the “Poplar Rebellion” being mentioned during a presentation on LGPS case law.

This was really interesting (to me anyway). In 1921 a radical Labour Council was elected in Poplar, East London (now part of Tower Hamlets) led by George Lansbury (see photo left). This Council was most famous for refusing to set a “rate” since they felt that the poorer districts of London were unfairly treated when compared with richer parts of London. This meant that many of the Councillors were jailed for contempt of court.

However, this incredibility progressive Council also set an equal minimum wage of £4 per week for all employees - male and female. Which was unheard of at the time!

In the judgement Roberts v. Hopwood 1925, the courts found that the council had acted illegally in giving all employees equal pay, since women’s pay was usually far less than men at the time (even worse than now).

By paying women a rate the same as men the council was found to have been not acting in a “business-like manner” and it was declared unlawful.

This case is still cited as relevant case law with regard to to LGPS and British local authority governance.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Buy a Blogger?

Last month much to my surprise, I got an email, sent apparently via my “profile” on this blog from “National Techmark”, asking me whether or not I am interested in accepting advertising. National Techmark and the email address appeared to be genuine.

Since it did not appear to be the usual spam and of course, being the son of a politically incorrect Scot, from Aberdeen, (a city where even the rest of Scotland makes fun of their supposed meanness) I had to investigate further. Would my blog now make me if not famous, maybe rich! See the email text below.

Ive recently looked over your site and believe that your reader-base and visitors might be a possible advertising venue for us.

I am interested in traditional link advertising as well as using link blurbs on certain pages of your site, or on certain articles perhaps even submitting articles. This includes but is not limited to purchasing a post also. We are open to any idea that would allow us to capture interested readers, but would prefer to avoid the traditional Ads by Google and Sponsored Links sections.

Please let me know if youd be open to discussing advertising possibilities further.

Thanks in advance,
National Techmark

So I replied to this email with this:-

Hi D******
Thank you for your interest. Could you email the address of sites where you currently advertise?

D******* replied quickly and to my amazement it turns out that he wanted me to post articles about the US based National

Hello John,

Thanks for getting back to me! The site in question is

Most of our customers are making ends meet on a small budget and require short-term loans and may not even qualify for more traditional loans. I appreciate that your stance on our industry may be negative, but assure you that we are not out to editorialize or sway you in any way. To be frank, even a post about reasons to avoid payday loans would probably prove beneficial, while of course not vilifying our company in any way.

I am ultimately interested in getting an article/paid post up that links to our site. Id be happy to provide a post/article (with your approval, of course) that links to our site or you are welcome to write your own.

If you feel that a paid post/article is not for you, Id be happy to discuss the possibility of just a text link or blurb.

I am open to discussing cost at any point.

Id love for this to be as mutually beneficial as possible, so if you have any other ideas that would work for both of us, please feel free to mention them.

Now, in January I posted a couple of items about my absolute horror at the rate of interest charged to low income and vulnerable people by such companies as National Payday (although I did not mention them as such). Some similar companies charge the equivalent of 1,300% on their loans (yes, no mistake - 1,300%).

So I wrote back to say:-

Hi D******
I'm afraid that I really could not accept such paid advertising. If National Payday want to do a (free) guest post on their services then that would be fine. I'll probably post it elsewhere as well. I'm not sure that this is what you are about though. Just email it to me with a pic/photo?
Just for interest sake how much would (and how) would you pay for what you proposed?

I have not heard anything since. Thinking about it, I feel that they may have actually mixed me up with someone else? Although, of course, I am very proud of all you readers out there, I don’t think that my ratings in the States (or the UK) are all that high. Maybe this is also a wind up?

Who knows?

I do think that it is very insidious that any company thinks that it could actually pay for a post without making it perfectly clear that this was an advert. I wonder if any over bloggers have been approached? Has anyone accepted their terms?

I must admit that the behaviour of such companies means that we should not only “vilify” these companies on blogs, but also try and ensure that our governments take action to outlaw this modern day usury.

However, does this apparent interest in me by such loan sharks mean that I have actually achieved something actually positive for once from my blogging? Discuss....

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

“The Battle for the LGPS Governance”

Today I went to the first UNISON national seminar on the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) -“Representation and Governance” in central London.

While I appreciate that for some strange reason, many folk do not appear to value the governance arrangements of the LGPS. I and about 75 others from across the land disagreed and had made our way to the NUT headquarters in Kings Cross to take part in this event.

The seminar was chaired by UNISON NEC member Jane Carolan and the opening speaker was UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis. Dave pointed out that the LGPS had an estimated 3.6 million members and the total value of all investments in the scheme was around £125 billion. How well this scheme is run is actually of importance not only to scheme members, but also to some extent, the wider British economy.

There was a number of speakers including the “enemy” (joke of course) CLG civil servants Bob Holloway and Terry Crossley. By co-incidence, both the CLG and UNISON speakers, used the same photo of the first major pension thief, Capt Bob Maxwell, in their presentations. He of course, stole hundreds of millions of pounds, from the “Mirror” pension scheme.

The presentation on the LGPS and EU Directive 41 “Institutions for Occupational Retirement” (aka “IORP”) was, believe it or not, absolutely fascinating.

In the past there has been a dispute between senior civil servants and union negotiators whether the LGPS was a “Bath” or a “Sausage machine”. Today, we also learnt that there was a discussion on whether or not it was a “duck” as well? The plot thickens.

It’s getting a bit late and there was too much to post tonight. So I will post various stuff I found interesting later on in the week.

Update: I forgot to mention the Maxwell connection and the LGPS. In order to stop pensions theft and other bad practices the Government commissioned the Goode Report. One of the recommendations of this report was that the LGPS should have staffside representation with statutory rights (short of voting rights). However, due to "opposition" from employers this was never implemented. Why?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Getting “White Van” Man to Vote Labour

Back from an Easter visit to home in North Wales to find out that the BNP held the seat in the Havering Council by-election on Thursday in Gooshays. A disappointing result of course. Despite Labour coming 2nd and increasing its share of the vote at the expense of the Tories (and the turnout only being a miserly 22%).

However, there is no way that this overwhelmingly white working class ward should be represented by one Nazi and two Tories! We all need to try harder! I think there is more to it than just racism and Labour unpopularity.

Gooshays is not a “sink estate” but to all appearances, a well run and looked after, traditional outer London Council estate. Most of the properties I guess, have now been sold under “The Right to Buy”. I don’t think (this was on a Sunday I visited) that I have ever seen so many “white vans” parked outside homes with adverts on their sides for their self employed owners. This made me think.

Last Saturday evening in Wales, my brother-in-law, a self employed pipe lagger, proudly picked up the Mrs and I from our hotel in his brand new white transit, to go out for a family meal. My brother-in-law is a really hard and conscientious worker, who went out on site every day during the Bank holiday in order to finish a job in time.

My brother-in-law won’t have his company logo sprayed on the sides of his van because he believes that he will not be able to legally smoke while driving if it is identified as a “company vehicle”. I’m not sure that this is actually true or not?

He is not nowadays, a "natural" supporter of the Labour Party, even though he was brought up in a council estate and admits that his business has boomed out of all recognition since Labour came to power. Since most of his work is lagging central heating pipes in new and refurbished hospitals, schools and other public buildings that have been commissioned due to the government pouring money into the public sector infrastructure. However, he thinks that the more business he has, the more he unfairly pays in taxes. He won’t tell me who he votes for, but I can guess.

How can we persuade him and his Essex counterparts to vote Labour?

As you can imagine, we have had a number of wide ranging conversations during the years. Often, admittedly alcohol fuelled, so not always that constructive.

I haven’t got an answer. I think that he appreciates the improvement in the NHS, local schools and crime. Although this is not enough to interest him to consider voting Labour.

The only time I felt that I really had his interest is when we discussed what will happen to him if he becomes too ill to work and will he have an adequate pension when he retires?

As you can guess, the answer is that he will be in a very serious financial mess if he becomes long term sick before he retires, since he cannot afford permanent ill health medical insurance. He is also unsure whether or not his personal pension plans will provide him (and my sister!) with a reasonable living when he retires.

Other countries have industry wide sickness and pension protection plans for the self employed. These collective schemes collect contributions from employers and contractors and share the risk. Despite being suspicious of the State in many ways, he would rather trust the the State (or evens unions?) with his money rather than banks and insurance companies (for obvious reasons).

My point is that we need to attract and appeal to the new working class self employed. Forget any old arguments about how they should all be part of some sort of Council DLO. The genuinely self employed (not false long term construction workers) must be attracted with policies that reflect what concerns them and their own particular circumstances.

Who knows, if we get this right, perhaps in the future, the Tories will tremble when we mention the electoral power of Welsh and Essex “Labour White Van Persons”?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

On a Winning Roll...the last AGM

The 2008 Labour Movement AGM season for me pretty much came to rest yesterday with the London UNISON Regional Committee AGM, held at the Friends Meeting place, Euston Road, London, WC1. This was my 8th of the year?

Over the last few years, centre left London UNISON activists have worked together to elect a representative lay regional leadership and ensure that the important committees that organise and oversee the union, act in the interests of ordinary UNISON members rather than politically motivated extremists.

During a relatively short period of time (at times a sharp battle), we firstly took the lay regional convener and deputy positions, then all of the lay regional council officers and we now hold a majority of seats in the main regional committees.

There are still problems and no doubt to our embarrassment later this year there will be (in my view) boring and repetitive “grandstanding” on the National Conference platform by predominately unrepresentative, angry, loud middle class types, arguing for the union to bring about revolution... NOW.

Yesterday, we won all the important votes and elections by a large majority. The first time in a long, long time.

London UNISON has changed.

(By co-incidence groundhog day, that evening I had to go all the way back from work to the Friends Meeting House again for my UNISON branch executive meeting!)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Company killers fined less than 1/700th of turnover

I received today a persuasive email alert from the Centre for Corporate Accountability (CCA). At the moment the Government Sentencing Advisory Panel (SAP) is drafting guidance for Courts on what sentence they should give companies convicted of work “death related” and manslaughter offences.

The CCA research show that most fines against companies convicted of offenses following work related deaths are less than 1/700th of turnover.

If individuals earning an average annual income of £24,769 were sentenced at this level, they would be fined just £35.

The research also shows that the fines imposed on most of these companies was only 1% of their gross profits”.

The CCA quite rightly urge the SAP to ensure that Courts “fine companies convicted of 'death-related' health and safety offences between 2.5 and 10% of the company's turnover and for the new corporate manslaughter offence of between 15 and 40% of the company's turnover".

Company directors should in my view face jail if convicted of such offences. However, this is not happening for the foreseeable future. So to make sure these laws bite, the penalty must meet the crime, not for revenge but to punish and deter. The present penalties are clearly inadequate and must be raised significantly.

Tell the CBI and those who oppose large fines that unless the legislation works, then the demand for jail terms will return.

This of course a suitable topic only a few weeks before Workers Memorial Day – Monday 28 April 2008.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Wake Up" Burma Campaign

Below is a straight lift from a Burma Campaign email. I don’t suppose this new song will be widely available in China either.

Good news though that Willis the 3rd largest insurance broker is to end its links with the Burma regime. Reminds me to chase my councillor about my Council pension fund investments in Burma.

Dear Friends

Up and coming new indie band Lo-Star have just released their debut single in support of the Burma Campaign UK. Their new song 'Wake Up' was written by the band to tell the world that it’s time to take action on Burma.

The profits from the single will be donated to the Burma Campaign UK to help us in our work for human rights and democracy in Burma.The Daily Star has named it their single of the week, saying, “We should all still go out and buy it.

Why? Because all the proceeds go to the Burma Campaign. Fortunately, it sounds quite lovely too. The lyrics "We gotta wake up, we've got to realise that something needs to be done" sound all the more poignant alongside the affecting video of the protesting Burmese people.”

Download the single now and help raise money for the Burma Campaign. You can buy the single on iTunes:

Simply to sing a song about freedom and democracy in Burma is an arrestable offence, with a penalty of up to 20 years in jail. While the Burmese people are silenced, the rest of the world can speak out.

Watch the video at

Buy the single on iTunes

Wake Up is available in the shops from March 24th.

Thanks for your support.

Anna Roberts

The Burma Campaign UK

Monday, March 17, 2008

TULO Day of Action

Today was a Trade Union & Labour Party Liaison Organisation (TULO)
"Day of Action” for the GLA Mayor and Assembly elections 2008. Labour Party affiliates were sent leaflets, paid for and designed by TULO to hand out to members at our workplace. I have been handing out these leaflets outside East London railway stations recently and had quite a good reaction.

At work today during my lunch break, I went and gave members a copy of this specially designed TULO leaflet. Members were, I thought, quite amused at the prospect of their union rep handing out leaflets about “election issues”.

Participation in politics is I think something that many people are nowadays not use to and are even a little unsure how to react? There was some gentle teasing about “Red Ken” and saying that they will have to sell the Porsche in order to pay the London congestion charge (joke)! However, I felt that members were fond of him and recognised that it is in their interests to vote Labour on the day (not all of course – some union activists forget that significant numbers of UNISON members always vote Tory. In the true blue Shires, probably a majority).

There is a theory that in modern day society, the trade unions (for all our faults) are actually far more respected than politicians, journalists, business or even religious leaders. People will therefore take more notice of their unions and especially their stewards on wider social and political issues. Not so sure about this, but I feel this belief may have an element of truth in it.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Respect “To Let”

This morning I was out with West Ham Labour Party Comrades delivering rather wet and soggy Labour Ken Livingstone (and TULO) leaflets in the Green Street West ward. This ward was taken by “Respect” in the last election and all the 3 councillors are nominally members.

It was interesting to come across the former Newham Respect HQ in which appears to have been closed down and up for “let”.

Outside this office during the 2006 elections I was sworn at and threatened by Respect activists while canvassing for Labour. Happy days.

Of course, nowadays “Respect” has split into 2 different groups who hate each other more than they do New Labour or even the Tories (who one of their Councillors have joined!)

In the GLA election it would appear that the various factions will be standing against each other!

I am sure that the “To Let” signs are not is a reference to the recent finding that the old Respect had been funded by a company led by a Tory Peer that specialises in privatisation of British public services?

I of course treated this discovery in my usual legendary politically mature and grown up manner (see below)

Keep the BNP Out of London

I went to Stratford, East London yesterday and joined London UNISON Regional Convenor, Gloria Hanson and volunteers outside the railway and bus station. They were handing out “Keep the BNP out of London” leaflets which had been produced by SERTUC (the London & SE TUC).

I can’t find a link to the leaflet. This paragraph should give you a flavour.

The BNP is opposed to the London that you know and love. They hate multi-cultural society. They hate diversity in your community. The BNP is a racist party, homophobic, is prejudiced against disabled people, full of thugs, holocaust deniers and Nazi sympathisers”.

Which I think is pretty accurate summary of the BNP, quite mild really.

This has been the “Weekend of Hope” across London. With a series of anti-fascist events across London.

The one thing that did surprise me was that a number of people took a leaflet then came back and asked who are the BNP? The leaflet did not actually say what the initials BNP meant. This included black Londoners? As soon as you said “British National Party” most knew who we meant. However, some still looked blankly.

I think we still have some work to do.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Boris dumps on London Schools

It seems that meanie Boris Johnson is in some sort of competition with his alter ego (emphasis on ego) George Galloway for who can make the most gross and insensitive comments of the week!

Check out the latest gaff by Boris in this lift from

Boris Johnson Islington schools insult condemned by Islington MP and Ken Livingstone.

An insult by Boris Johnson against state schools in the London borough of Islington has been condemned by Islington MP Jeremy Corbyn and Ken Livingstone's campaign for Mayor.

The Times today quotes Boris Johnson as saying he 'extracted' his children from schools in Islington.The Times reports:'He gives money to three of our most prestigious private schools - two of them in London - in the form of school fees.

His four children started at their local state primary but when secondary loomed,"because we live in Islington, I extracted them". Only one remains there. "I have no embarrassment about it whatever," he says, but at the same time he talks passionately about the problems caused by middle-class flight from state education.

'A spokesperson for the Ken Livingstone campaign said:"Boris Johnson can decide where he chooses to send his children to school, but it is unacceptable to insult the parents and teachers of Islington's schools in this way.

For Boris Johnson to say that he does not send his children to a state school simply because he lives in Islington is disdainful to every parent and teacher in the London borough of Islington.

"Boris Johnson's statement is one of his typical insults - in this case to Islington."Boris Johnson has previously gratuitously insulted Liverpool,Portsmouth and other places and he now appears to start doing it with parts of the city he claims he wants to be Mayor of.

It shows how completely out of touch he is with the reality and needs of London."Islington MP Jeremy Corbyn said:"Our schools have all benefited from new investment and dedicated teachers, and they deserve support from all politicians not contempt like this from Boris Johnson."

Friday, March 14, 2008

Tory Funder Fidelity to Lose Pension Contract

Good news – yesterday I spoke to, lets just say, a very senior councillor in a British local authority, who told me that "no matter what", their pension fund will not be reappointing “you know who” as their fund managers.

This is because the councillors, who appointed Fidelity in the first place felt deceived by the company, who did not mention their political partisanship when they gave them their presentation.

Also, they do not think it appropriate for fund managers to support any political party. Fidelity has given £415,000 to the tories in recent years.

Tom P also reports that he has had a few “interesting conversations” with people in the investment business, that they share his concerns about the wisdom of Fidelity’s political postulating.

This is his first “scalp” and I have no doubt there will be more.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Galloway: “executed in Iran for being gay? That's not true”

Just when you think that George Galloway (GG)cannot sink any lower you get this?

GG: The Independent has a story about Peers calling upon the Home Secretary to halt the deportation of a gay Iranian. In part this is being used as part of the on-going propaganda against Iran. All the papers seem to imply that you get executed in Iran for being gay. That's not true.

MW: His boyfriend was hung though, wasn't he?

GG: Yes, but nor being gay. For uh, committing sex crimes, uh, against young men.

MW: Right...

GG: I mean, I'm against execution for any reason in any place, but it is important to avoid that propaganda.

MW: So you're saying that his guy they want to deport should be deported because there is no risk of his sexuality.. or he shouldn't be deported because there is at risk?

GG: He should not be deported not least because after all this Iranian propaganda he will be accused of being the source, or one of the sources. It would be ridiculous to deport him, and I don't think he will be deported now.

So. a gay asylum seeker is just a tool of anti-Iranian propaganda, and his late partner was a sex-abuser. Nice, Mr Galloway... now will you produce the evidence?

You know this is about a young man who will end up executed because he is gay . Shouldn't we be on his side and not apologising for the Iranian regime”. Stroppyblog

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Long Weekend of Hope for London

Just back from my local Labour Party EC meeting (via of course a local hostelry). At the meeting, which was mostly taken up with campaign issues, we had behind us a freshly delivered stack, several feet high, of tabloid style newsletters, supporting Ken Livingstone and the other Labour candidates.

Some wards had already started delivering the newsletters this evening, while others will start tomorrow morning (it’s a great way to get fit – why pay to join a gym when you could be a Labour Party canvasser!). My ward is being organised by our new, very efficient and enthusiastic 21 year old branch secretary!

Over the weekend we will deliver the newsletter in targeted areas across all 10 wards. Hopefully the weather will be kind. Next Tuesday the so-called “short campaign” begins (6 weeks?).

Also this Friday begins the “Weekend of Hope” organised by “Hope not Hate” the anti-BNP “Searchlight” organisation. Which is mobilising anti-Nazi volunteers across London to take part in events and hand out leaflets (and most importantly speak to people).

While on Monday 17 March it is the TULO Day of action, where trade unionists are encouraged to take specially designed trade union leaflets supporting Ken and the Labour candidates into work and give them to colleagues. We are also planning to leaflet railway stations and large office/factory buildings.

The London Mayor and GLA Election (and there are other important Council elections across the UK) will be in 7 weeks from tomorrow. Roll on May 2?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Testing the Water

Totally off message – for years I have had a number of family picture slides from when I was a kid in a box in the attic. Like no doubt many people I have always been meaning to get them transferred to a disc or properly printed whatever. However, I have never actually got around to doing anything with them.

Recently my neighbour, who does something technical in telly, bought a decent slide scanner and he has let me use it. The results are amazing and bring back all sort of memories.

Picture is of big sister Helen, moi and little sister Lucy with our Dad (sadly no longer with us) somewhere lovely circa 1970-ish. No doubt many other people will have similar collections tucked away. I would really encourage you to do something with them while you can. Some of the slides were very badly damaged with age.

Monday, March 10, 2008

"New Capitalist" is Labour General Secretary

Congratulations to the new General Secretary of the Labour Party David Pitt-Watson. I have meet David a couple of times at pension conferences and have been very impressed. He was our guest speaker at a UNISON conference fringe last year which I chaired (photo: right with red tie). It was called “Trade Unionists are the New Capitalist’s”. Check out David’s book on this subject.

He is an experienced former Labour Party assistant general secretary and successful fund manager for Hermes which runs the huge BT pension scheme (unusually the scheme owns Hermes). He can walk the talk. I suspect that he is taking a big pay cut to do this job (which admit it, is going to be a pretty thankless task at times).

He is just the bloke to sort the Labour Party finances and its campaign machinery in time for the next election. Good Luck David (you'll need it)

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The 4 Johns, Eve & Gloria tackle the BNP

This morning there was a TULO day of action across London in support of Labour Party candidates in the forthcoming Assembly and the Mayor elections. In our London Assembly constituency, City & East, trade unionists were asked to go and help out with canvassing and leafleting in the Gooshays council by-election in Havering, East London.

Picture to right is of TULO activists John 1, Gloria Hanson (also UNISON London Regional Convener), John 2 (Biggs – London Assembly member for City & East), Eve Cornell (top Labour Candidate for the by-election) and John 3. John 4 was of course taking the picture. Peter (who works for Margaret Hodge MP) was leading the team. However, out of the 7 of us, 4 were called John – is this some sort of record?

This is an intriguing by-election. There was a BNP and two Tory Councillors in the ward. The useless BNP Councillor has just given up and resigned after only 2 years. No doubt there is some sort of court appearance pending. At the last election there was a “dead heat” between Eve and a Tory. The returning officer had to toss a coin to decide the result. Unfortunately (for the residents of Goodshays) Eve lost the toss.

According to the local organiser there were about 30 people that day working the ward. I know that Amarjit Singh from Tessa was also leading a TULO team at the same time but we didn’t bump into them.

There was no sign of any BNP canvassers, only 2 Tory leafleters led by their local MP Angela Watkinson, who had a polite chat with Eve.

The ward was a GLC estate now managed by “Havering Homes”. Mostly terraced or semi-detached houses. It appears to be a well run and decent estate. Very little graffiti, no obvious abandoned cars, fridges/mattresses in gardens etc. Lots of green spaces and parks. The local kids seemed pretty relaxed and content. Many of the homes appear to have been bought under “right to buy”. I have no doubt that there are problems but it did not seem to me to be the sort of area were the BNP would thrive? Going by all the vans with local logos there are lots of self-employed trades people and contractors living on the estate.

I appreciate that people do not normally admit to voting BNP (the shame?) but no-one I canvassed said they would vote BNP. It was encouragingly solid Labour. Eve was a poplar and well known candidate. We even had one elderly couple who said that until recently they use to be life long conservatives but now they are getting old they now vote Labour (think about it).

The only hassle I had was from one bloke on his doorstep who announced that he supported UKIP and started wittering on about “stealth taxes”. He was okay, but Eve came over and rescued me, and even got him to sign our petition against the closure of the local post office. As we went off Eve said he was actually a BNP supporter who had in the past been given an Anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) against him for causing problems on the estate. No surprise there then.

The by-election is on 20 March 2008. Canvassers meet up normally 6.30pm each evening at the Harold Hill Community Centre, Gooshays Drive, Romford, Essex RM3 9LB (TFL website) email rob_chapmanatnewdotlabourdotorgdotuk to confirm before you turn up to help.

Check out the “Hope Not Hate” website to find out the latest on the Nazi campaigns in London and the rest of the Country.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Homage to Catalonia

I had a break from blogging the other week while enjoying sunshine (and rain) in Andalucía, Southern Spain. Okay, we actually stayed in the concrete seafront “British” colony that is Benalmadena Costa. Which wasn’t that great, but it was a good central base for getting around the province.

The rain did give me a chance to reread one of my all time favourite books, “Homage to Catalonia” by George Orwell. (Or by his real name Eric Blair – these Blair’s get about).

Orwell had volunteered to fight the Franco fascist rebellion against the socialist republican government in the Spanish civil War (1936-1939). He served on the front line for several months with a Catalonia militia which supported the revolutionary minded POUM movement.

It is a compelling story by an Eton educated former Burmese colonial policeman who travelled thousands of miles to voluntary take up arms, serve in often appalling conditions and risk his life for what he personally believed in not what his country wanted him to fight for.

The book works for me on a number of levels. It is a gripping account of the misery and squalor of 115 days of trench warfare (guess where George picked up his “Orwellian” hatred of rats). The description of an assault against an enemy strong point and the subsequent hand to hand combat is compelling.

He uniquely describes the role that lice have played in European combat over the ages. Countless generations of solders in famous battles have not only had to fight the enemy before them but at the same time the lice that were attacking their genitals! This is something most history books somehow fail to mention.

The book is also a political thriller. Despite risking his life for the Spanish republic and being shot in the neck by a fascist sniper “The whole experience of being hit by a bullet is very interesting and I think it is worth describing in detail”. George was identified as a political enemy by the republican government and narrowly avoided arrest or even execution due to his association with the POUM. He had to go in hiding while still recovering from his wounds before he was able to escape out of the country.

It is also a first hand political history of an important period. In very simplistic terms the POUM were repressed by its own government because it was thought as being in favour of promoting "revolution" in Spain as the only means of defeating the fascists. While the mostly communist government believed that the defeat of the fascists was the overwhelming priority and this needed a poplar front rather than a revolution. As well as disciplined and well trained regular armies rather than "egalitarian" workers militias.

Would Cuba have survived as long as it has without its well trained and disciplined regular armed forces?

Orwell of course does not come out of things without being open to criticism. He describes some of his British compatriots serving with him as being “rift raff”? Which in the book he annoyingly does not explain or elaborate. This runs the risk of him being portrayed as a Eton snob?

I also wonder about his apparent “support” for workers “revolution”? Of course since the POUM and the Anarchists were suppressed by the government (mostly Communist), who then went on to eventually lose the War, it is tempting to think that perhaps a “revolution” might have enabled the republic to defeat the fascists. Personally, I think that the republican government was only able to survive as long as it did since it had a lot of mainstream support. From the majority of Spaniards who were neither communists nor revolutionaries.

I find it quite revealing that Orwell casually mentioned that he only saw a couple of un-vandalised churches while he was in Spain. Many churches were vandalised, destroyed or even used as toilets. While I can understand that many republicans were anti-clerical and that the Catholic Church in Spain had largely been an oppressive institution. I find it difficult to understand how sensitive, intelligent, educated people such as Orwell could not realise the fatal damage being done to their cause by such pointless and counter productive destruction of sacred Church property and by the fairly widespread indiscriminate murder of clergy? The fascists were able to gain widespread support due to this stupidity.

By co-incidence the only mention of southern Spain in the book was rather rude comments about the fall of Malaga to the fascists and about the fighting qualities of Andalucía republican militia. While ironically the only significant reference I saw to the civil war during my stay was during a visit to the impressive town of Ronda. Where during the war, republicans apparently threw hundreds of supposedly Franco supporters to their deaths from the top of the gorge that divides the town. Looking down that gorge it must have been a horrible death. Things don’t change; Hamas threw members of Fatah off the top of tower blocks last year when they took over Gaza.

Despite everything going to pieces, George did have optimism for the future even it this was based on somewhat usual circumstances. While he was on the run from the Communist republican secret police, they raided his wife’s hotel bedroom late at night. They searched the room from top to bottom and took away all his letters and war souvenirs however, because they were Spanish men, they were unable to ask his wife to get out of her bed and search the bed or even underneath it. Since he could have had many subversive documents or even arms under her bed, he felt that this was a sign that whatever happened Spain would not become a proper fascist state like Germany.

Finally, I enjoyed George's typically British sardonic comments on being constantly congratulated as being very “lucky” after surviving being shot in the neck by the sniper. He thought that it would have been luckier not to have been hit at all!

Why I fear the BNP

The British National Party could easily win seats in the London Assembly elections - unless voters wake up the threat

This is a superb post (see below) by London Labour Assembly member Jennette Arnold in “Comment is free”. BTW - On Sunday London TULO are encouraging people to go and help out at the Goodshays by-Election (BNP councillor resigned) Meet 10.30am 9 March outside the Harold Hill Community Centre, Gooshays Drive, Romford, Essex RM3 9LB

Like a dangerous dog, the threat from the British National Party in the London Assembly elections has been allowed to lie. But the realisation that they need just 5% of the capital's vote to win seats in May is now slowly dawning. The shock that this awakening has taken so long alarmed me almost as much as the threat itself.

The facts are stark. For one seat on the assembly, the BNP need just 5% of the vote. For two seats they need 8% and for three seats 11%. For anyone doubting how achievable these targets are, at the last GLA elections in 2004 they got 4.8% - just 5,000 votes away from credibility and a stepping stone to further power.

Though the BNP is currently wracked by internal wrangling and financial turmoil, any success in London would galvanise its supporters, give the party UK-wide credence as an electable force and set in motion worrying momentum heading into next year's European elections. Or, as they put it: "If we are successful it will send shockwaves through the media and the establishment and will really propel the BNP into the political premier league."

As someone who adores multi-cultural, multi-coloured and multi-racial London, it's a terrifying thought.

The BNP terrify me not because they are a racist, thuggish bunch who thrive on hate and fear - though of course they are - but because they represent the polar opposite of my political beliefs. For me, politics is about the power of collective action, in all its forms, as the driver for achieving change. This was my philosophy as a member of the church, then a nursing trade union official and finally as a Labour politician.

I have always believed in the power of the collective will of the majority to improve lives and communities. In contrast, the BNP are a fascist minority who manipulate grievances to divide the communities they infect. It is their pernicious scape-goating, based on racism but thriving on fear of 'the other', that I so despise.

There is a danger - and I have seen it here at City Hall - that progressive-minded people will shrug their shoulders. The pervasive attitude that says: "It won't happen here. The BNP blights Oldham and Burnley but not our great multi-cultural capital. We're above all that."

But the far right's recent successes should serve as a wake-up call. In Barking and Dagenham two years ago they won 11 out of 35 council seats with 8,000 votes (remember they only need 5,000 more across the whole of London for an assembly seat). They have polled 10% in wards in Havering, Sutton, Croydon, Lewisham, Hillingdon and Enfield - all areas where
UKIP have previously done well.

Why do I talk about UKIP? In 2004, when the BNP were in touching distance of an assembly seat, the GLA and European elections were held on the same day. UKIP punched above their weight by exploiting the shared date and won two seats. Excellent work by the anti-fascist group Searchlight and the Joseph Rowntree Trust has found that, with UKIP (now called One London) all but finished as an electoral force and with no European elections this year, as many as 20% of their supporters could switch to the BNP. This would give the racist party 6.5% even before their growth in the capital since 2004 is taken into account. More than enough to get them elected.

It is far from a forgone conclusion, though. The BNP are the most despised political party in Britain and London's diverse population means that 35% of voters should automatically oppose them. The problem comes with the word "automatically".

It is not enough to be automatically or naturally opposed to the hideous ideology of the far-right. What matters is getting out and voting. And, because of the electoral system, it is not enough to say it won't happen in, say, Hackney or Hampstead. It is the party's share of the vote across the whole of London that counts. So the more votes that are cast the higher the bar will be that the BNP have to reach.

An increased turnout is the only way to stop the BNP gaining a foothold in London. If 45% of Londoners turn out to vote, the BNP would need 120,000 votes for one seat and almost 200,000 for two. In 2004 they got 90,000 votes.

One upshot of the high profile fight for the mayoralty is that the increased media attention should encourage people to get out and vote. Let's hope so. With the nation's eyes on the capital, the British far right have their best chance in recent years of gaining respectability and - as the BNP see it - a springboard to further political power. But if London's mainstream majority are alive to the threat and get out to vote, the capital and the country will have a lot to be thankful for.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Boris Bilks Busker?

Just been sent an interesting, allegedly first hand story about Boris Johnson, Tory candidate for London Mayor, while he was in Croydon recently making a public appearance.

During a “walkabout” he posed with a local singer/songwriter and street “busker” Claire Toomey for a photo opportunity. As he stood with Claire, who was singing a new song, she had written called "Found”, he started “smiling wildly” and waving a £20 note as if he was about to give her the money in appreciation of her musical talents.

What a generous guy?

However, once the accompanying photographers had finished taking pics, he immediately put the £20 note back into his wallet, thanked Claire, then walked off quickly to have his picture taken with the next mug. Claire was not amused.

Mean git more like it?

Match Women’s Strike 1888-2008

I was sent a press release about an event to mark the 120th anniversary of this landmark East End strike. I have mentioned this dispute before. I work very near to the old Bryant & May Factory building which still dominates the locality.

Even if many people who either drive past it on the Bow flyover or while on the train into Liverpool Street, probably don’t have a clue about its importance in trade union and organised labour history.

“Celebration of the Bryant & May Match women’s Strike in the summer of 1888. 120 years ago fourteen hundred women workers walked out of Bryant & May’s Bow factory.

This meeting will discuss with a panel of speakers how the strike was organised; who led them; what impact did it have on new unionism as it developed from the 1880’s and particularly the strike of the London Dockers in 1889."

Saturday 26th July 2008 1.30 pm for 2.00 pm (provisional) starting with buffet lunch at TUC, Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3S

Speakers invited: Include:
·1 Louise Raw (researcher at London Metropolitan University)
·2 Professor Mary Davis (London Metropolitan University)
·3 Teresa Mackay (TGWU/Unite)

Greater London Association of Trades Union Councils Supported by: SERTUC; other trade union organisations are being invited to support

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

“St Piran’s Day Massacre” – UNISON Centre Left Win London Labour Link Elections

I got home tonight from my local Labour Party AGM to find a letter from UNISON Labour link confirming that I had been re-elected to the London Regional Labour Link Committee. The results of the election was (in my own personal view of course) absolutely outstanding.

The slate that the centre left had agreed (see post) had a clean sweep and we won every seat and delegation by a huge margin (of between 200 to even 300% in nearly every committee and forum election). I believe that there was a higher turnout this year as well.

Last year, we were I thought, pretty successful in these same elections and since we heard the results on March 1 2007, the title of that post was “St David’s Day Massacre – Centre Left Win London Labour Link”.

This year (On St Piran’s Day – one of the patron saints of Cornwall) we did even better. Celtic Saints Days are obviously a good time to announce Labour Link election results!

Commiserations to all those who were not elected this time.

The Centre Left in UNISON appears to be on a roll. Check out this link to last month’s regional council AGM and last weeks London Labour Link Forum in the House of Commons.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

“Dog Whistle” Politics drive Lee Out?

Just remember this on the way into work tomorrow in London, when you battle through all the hostile and jeering media headlines about Lee Jasper’s decision to resign as a senior advisor to London Mayor, Ken Livingstone. This really is “Dog Whistlepolitics.

"Statement by the Greater London Authority on the resignation of Lee Jasper

A spokesperson for the Greater London Authority said:

“The record of the GLA in dealing with racism in London has been outstanding. Racist attacks have been reduced by more than a half in eight years, and last year racist attacks rose by 12 per cent in the UK as a whole by fell by 14 per cent in London.

“Operation Trident, aimed against black gun crime, has been an outstanding success with the arrest of many dozens of criminals engaged with guns without a single shot being fired.

“The GLA is an exemplary authority achieving national recognition in the country in regard to equality and procurement. “Lee Jasper played a leading role in regard to these, and no evidence has been presented for the criminal allegations presented by the Evening Standard.

“However Lee Jasper has stated that in light of material published today that he has tendered his resignation. The Mayor has accepted it.”

Notes to Editors
1. Resignation letter from Lee Jasper below:
Ken LivingstoneMayor of London
4 March 2008

Dear Ken,
I am proud of my record in contributing to the huge reduction in racist attacks in London, the work I have carried out in partnership with the Metropolitan Police Service in relation to Operation Trident, reductions in the levels of domestic violence and the increased employment of Black, Asian and women officers.

Further, the work we delivered in ensured equality in London is delivered has been astounding.
However, it has become clear that a number of matters which are not of first importance in London are being used to distract from the crucial questions in the election campaign.
The racist nature of a relentless media campaign and the consequent effects on myself and family have placed an intolerable strain on all of us.

I have decided to put a stop to this by tendering my resignation.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Iranian trade unionists face the lash

Labourstart reports that “The ITUC and the ITF are organising a global action day on 6 March 2008 to express our solidarity with Iranian workers once again.

We want Mansour Osanloo and Mahmoud Salehi released immediately and unconditionally from prison. Their health conditions are deteriorating.

We also demand that fundamental workers' rights be respected in Iran, in accordance with the ILO core conventions. The imprisonment of Osanloo and Salehi are not isolated cases in Iran. Nine education workers were sentenced to 91 days in prison recently.

The Iranian authorities claim they are "threats to the national security" although in reality, it is genuine trade union activities they want to crush. Oppression of the independent workers' movement in Iran is escalating.

That is why the global unions, together with human rights activists, wish to send a strong message to the Iranian government. 6 March falls two weeks prior to the Iranian New Year and the parliamentary elections.

.......In recent days we reported that eleven workers whose only crime was to participate in a May Day event last year were sentenced to huge monetary fines -- and ten lashes each".

Sunday, March 02, 2008

GLA Mayor & Assembly Elections 2008 – TULO Days of Action Update

On Sunday 9 March 2008 there will be a London wide day of action organised by TULO in support of Labour Mayor, Ken Livingstone and all our London Assembly candidates.

In the City & East GLA constituency on 9 March we are planning to support our neighbours in Havering by campaigning in the Goodshays by-Election. The ward BNP councillor has resigned. At the 2006 council election, Gooshays Ward was highly marginal between Labour, the Tories and the BNP candidate. Yve Cornell, the Labour candidate, was beaten by the narrowest possible margin, on the flip of a coin. The by-election on 20 March gives us an opportunity to win back a seat on the council and kick the BNP out of Havering. Not only that but we can firm up the GLA Labour vote for Ken and the other Labour wide candidates.
The BNP are in a bit of a mess in Havering due to infighting and splits. check out the "Hope not Hate" site.

Meet 10.30am outside the Harold Hill Community Centre, Gooshays Drive, Romford, Essex RM3 9LB.

On Monday 17 March 2008 there is a TULO workplace day of action, where everyone is encouraged to delivery or handout, TULO leaflets supporting Ken & John Biggs at their workplaces or outside underground/railway stations. If you want to hand out leaflets at your workplace on 17 March please contact TULO (or in City & East email via my profile?)

Saturday, March 01, 2008

US Air Force St David’s Day Pressie to North Wales

Really pleased to hear today about the 15 year, £20 Billion aviation contract from the USA Air force for 179 new in-air refuelling planes. The wings of these planes are manufactured in the Airbus site in Broughton, Flintshire, North Wales (and its factory Bristol). It is a major employer in the area with currently about 7,000 workers (a lot more elsewhere in the UK). This order will secure local jobs for many years. The Broughton factory is really vital to the local economy. Lots of skilled and relatively well paid jobs.

I was brought up only a few miles away in Buckley and the factory was always an important major local employer. My father actually came down from Scotland to work at the factory in the Early 50’s when it was owned by Dehavillands. He was a member of the Electrician Union, a shop steward and its Assistant Branch Secretary for many years.

Keeping it in the family, my “little” sister’s husband, is an aircraft technician who has worked at the site and is currently working for Airbus on its production line in Spain.

It seems that the unions in the US are “kicking off” about this order, since they wanted the work to go to Boeing. I think we can all understand this. However, I believe that 80% of the contract will still be carried out in the US?

Anyway, Hapus Dydd Dewi Sant – this is even much, much better news than last year!