Sunday, May 31, 2009

Virgin Media – The Emperor has no clothes?

It seems like a rite of passage that bloggers will post angry rants about their ISP’s from time to time. Now this is my turn. On Friday my Virgin Media broadband went down. I phoned up and was told that there was an area problem and that it will be fixed as soon as possible. Fair enough, these things happen.

Saturday afternoon, still no connection. I ring up again and am now told it’s my (Virgin Media) cable modem that is at fault. They need to send an engineer and the earliest is Wednesday. Fair enough, not very happy waiting until Wednesday but after all - these things happen.

The real fun started when I asked to use my laptop modem to access the Virgin Media “dial up” Internet service. They refused saying that Virgin Media would not open any more new “dial up” accounts for customers. I pointed out that I was not a new customer (in fact if you include their predecessor companies NTL and Cable and Wireless customer – I have been a loyal customer for at least 10 years or more).

This is apparently irreverent. Due to a Virgin Media fault I will be without any Internet access for some 6 days. I asked was there any possible technical reason why I cannot have a "dial up" account. Nope – I just must wait until Wednesday. I then asked to speak to a supervisor. Nope – they are all busy and someone will ring me within 48 hours.

Not good enough I argued and told them that I will make a formal complaint and cancel my account unless someone could give me a good reason why I cannot use the “dial up” service.

Then I was told to ring a 0906 premium rate telephone number as they may be able to help. I did and it was unobtainable. I then rang the Virgin Media “Dial up” helpline directly (50p per minute) and was told that what I wanted was not a problem and he had my "Dial up" account set up and working within 10 minutes.

So if any of you reading this are with Virgin and your broadband connection goes down they can provide you with a "dial up" service (using it and listening to the sounds the modem makes has made me feel quite nostalgic).

I note from Which? (September 2008) that they had rated its service as “Poor” so I am not alone and many other customers think that Virgin media customer service sucks. I don’t blame the individual staff I spoke to rather management for providing bloody awful policies which front line staff has to implement.

I will fire off this rant to Virgin Media and unless I get a proper response I will take the plunge and move elsewhere. BTW Which? “Best buys” are Zen Internet and BE.


An excellent anti-Nazi (BNP) leaflet from UNISON (double click)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Labour Euro Election Street Stall in Stratford (2)

Today I returned from my long skive on holiday to help out with the 2nd EU Election stall in Stratford High Street outside the shopping centre. East London and City London Assembly member John Biggs was also there to help campaign.

Over 25 local councillors and Party members from across Newham spent some time at the stall. It was quite a colourful affair since in front of us there were evangelic Christian preachers preaching to passerby’s while behind there was a Hare Krishna band and dancers.

When you consider the difficult national political circumstances it was pretty successful I thought. The overwhelming response from people was positive. There were two dipsticks that walked past quickly shouting abuse before rapidly disappearing into the crowds. With the few people who brought the matter about MP expenses we had an open and honest conversation about what is going on.

One elderly bloke approached me and asked how many MP’s will be getting “Bird” over their expense claim. I said I was not sure that any will be but a number will be quite rightly stepping down as MPs because of this. He then asked if I thought it was right that the women who lied about her address to get her child in a good school were facing 5 years in jail. I agreed that this was wrong but also said I doubt very much that she faced any sort of a prison sentence even if convicted. He then tapped me on the shoulder and said “you boys have a lot of courage asking people to vote Labour at this time” and he walked away shaking his head.

The other side of the coin was that a women from the Teviot estate (I think) in Tower Hamlets came up to John Biggs to thank him for helping to get their communal gardens sorted out 7 years ago. We also had a Labour Party member who lived outside Newham come up and complain that she had not been contacted at all by her local party to help out with the election. I gave her the number of her local organiser.

The most amusing moment IMO was when a small group of Ultra left extremists (I believe they called themselves members of the so-called “Revolutionary Communist Party”) were lecturing some of our black members on how dare they support the “racist Labour Party” that had been deliberately set up to “support Empire and the colonies”? Our Black members dealt with the situation with humour and tolerance while gently explaining that the Labour Party was not racist and that they were proud to be not only supporters but activists.

To me it was a delicious irony to see these (all white and middle class) toy town revolutionaries lecturing and patronising working class black people on the “meaning of Racism” and demanding that they should follow their own perverted politics. Do these people simply have no insight on how normal people actually perceive them? Obviously not.

Messing about on the River

Off message: - back from a short 4 night break in the Norfolk Broads. I crashed the small motor cruiser we had hired into Wroxham Bridge (centre photo) within 5 minutes of leaving the boatyard. So after our first emergency mobile telephone call of the holiday we had to return due to a damaged canopy and broken outdoor table.

It took me about 10 minutes to reverse stern side back into the yard much to the despair of the hire company worker who was trying to guide me. I could steer forwards quite happily but you could not steer in a straight direction when in reverse. A group of young lads passing by in a launch helpfully clapped and cheered me on. Bless ‘em.

Luckily the boatyard had another replacement boat spare which was just about able to survive my captaincy for the rest of the "voyage".

There was another return visit the following day to the hire company to pick up the bedding we forgot when we swapped boats.

Mooring was always a bit of an adventure. After several abortive attempts usually someone onshore would take pity on us (or were worried about a collision with their boat) and would suggest that we throw them a rope and they would pull us. Eventually I worked out that the best way was just to aim head on for the mooring and approach at very slow speed then turn away at the last moment and jump ashore.

There was further excitement in Potter Heigham when I woke up at 3AM on Thursday to find 3 inches of water in the cabin. For some still unexplained reason the bilge had flooded and seeped into the living accommodation. Another rather frantic conversation with an emergency engineer resulted in us pressing the auto button on the bilge pump which stopped any further flooding.

Despite all this (and some intermittent wet and windy weather) – it was on the whole a fantastic experience. Cruising slowly along truly beautiful waterways and stopping off almost at your whim amongst drop dead gorgeous countryside for the night was a treat. There was also great meals and beer in lovely country pubs. In between the various disasters it was really a little bit of heaven on earth.

You can listen to what I think is the very apt song "messing about on the river" here.

Back on message somewhat: - Norfolk has some of the lowest wage rates in the UK despite being relatively close to London so the public exhibition of wealth on the rivers and its banks compared to the modest red brick terraces you see as you drive through Norwich was striking. I sailed past countless impressive riverside homes often with thatched roofs with immaculate private gardens and moorings for huge boats.

In the historic "White Horse" pub in beautiful Neatishead there was a plaque on the wall to annual competitions between the various local Agriculture Workers Union branches. But this dated from the 1960’s and I doubt if any of those branches mentioned were still active. I am pretty sure that all the customers that night in the pub were like me - fellow visitors.

I don’t believe in wearing a hair-shirt and it did not spoil the holiday but the discrepancy in wealth on show was in one way more unsettling than even that sinking feeling in Potter Heigham.

(due to PC problems – I’ll post picture another time - UPDATE - SORT OF SORTED)

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Blogging will be a bit erratic over the next few days so apologies for not posting or responding to any comments sooner.

Canning Town Canvass

Today we split up into 2 canvass teams outside St Luke’s Church in Tarling Road, E16. It was quite a positive canvass. There were a large number of east European residents who did not know that the election was on and that they could vote. A lot of people were also out because of the good weather.

I met up again with local residents I had talked to on the Rathbone Market stall the other week. I discussed “succession” rights with an elderly tenant who was worried that her son would be evicted if anything happened to her. It was a one bedroom flat. He had the bedroom and she slept in the living room. Her rent book said that her flat was big enough for 3 adults to live in.

The local housing estates seemed to be well managed and looked after.

We stopped and had a chat in the sunshine with two Police PCSO on push bikes from the local Safer Neighbourhood team.

It struck me that so far there had been no sign whatsoever of any other political parties campaigning in Newham during this election.

The MP expenses issue did come up but again most people who mentioned it expressed disappointment rather than anger. The mess the government had made over the Ghurkhas was brought up as well. An elderly resident was quite rightly very critical of the government over this matter but he did admit that the Labour government had done a lot for him financially over the years.

There were a relatively high number of people who said they would not be voting. However, the most often heard remark by those who spoke to us about Political Party preference was “Yes, we’re Labour, we have always voted Labour”.

We also had another resident asking us how they can join the Labour Party (as well as the two on Saturday).

You wouldn't vote for these fascists...

This is the Hope Not Hate leaflet we were handing out outside Norwich station on Union Friday.

I think it is pretty effective.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

So you want to be a Newham Councillor?

Today I went along to a “taster event for people wanting to stand for Council”. All Labour Party members in Newham have been sent application forms to fill out if they want to be considered and an invite to today’s event.

I posted last November that I had put my name forward to a somewhat mixed blogging response but on the whole it was somewhat supportive.

The event today was held in the Didsbury Centre in East Ham. There were about 25 members present which is not bad for a Bank Holiday Saturday. I had to skive off the West Ham CLP street stall in Forest Gate in order to attend.

The first speaker was the directly elected Newham Mayor, Sir Robin Wales. Robin laid out the Newham Labour vision of making our borough a better place that people choose to live and work inside. Robin argues that in Newham this aspiration is the key test about anything the Council does. The chief barrier to this is worklessness. The deprivation map of London 150 years ago is the same today. Paid employment is the key to change. Practically everything else we want for our wider community depends upon our people being in work and earning money.

Councillor Unmesh Desai spoke next about the highs and lows of being a Councillor. He described how sometimes it is so frustrating since residents would come to him with unrealistic expectations about what he could achieve as a Councillor. He cannot help everyone to be properly housed; he cannot interfere in Planning decisions or School appeals. However, he can make a difference. He can make personal representations over housing repairs and environmental services. He sometimes has to remind Council officers who pays their wages. He went through the code of conduct and standards committee.

The Q&A afterwards brought up a range of issues. Can we improve our communications with voters and Party members? I asked how many hours per week do you have to commit? Others asked what is their best experience as a Councillor and their worse.

Afterwards we went out (photo) and did some door knocking in the local ward as training and I assume sending a message out that if people want to be Councillors they need to “press the flesh”. I went out with a team of 4 and despite all the problems the Party have at the moment, our team struck gold and we had a load of positive responses and two separate people asking about becoming Labour Party members.

If you don’t ask you don’t get.

Friday, May 22, 2009

EU Housing Election Hustings

Catch up: Last Friday I went to a breakfast meeting on the European elections organised by Inside Housing. London Labour MEP Mary Honeyball (and blogger) Green MEP Jean Lambert; Liberal Democrat candidate Jonathan Fryer and Conservative Party candidate Warwick Lightfoot (no web site?) gave short speeches followed by a Q&A.

The meeting was held at the UK office of the European Parliament. Inside Housing Editor Stuart Macdonald chaired the meeting and the opening speaker was David Orr, CEO of the National Housing Federation and President of CECODHAS (which I had never heard of before).

David explained that CECODHAS represents 46 national and regional social (I don’t like that word “social” but...) housing organisations in 19 EU countries whose members manage some 25 million homes and house 75 million Europeans! He explained that while housing is not an EU “competency” (it’s a member state responsibility) it does have a role tackling homelessness, social policy and climate change. The EU is an economic entity but it is also a social project. Nowadays 80% of environmental and 50% of social legislation comes from the EU. There is a £100 million for energy efficient retrofitting. Currently 27% of green house gases emissions come from domestic housing while “only” 3% from air travel. He also made some interesting observations on the possible future enhanced role of the European Investment Bank in public housing. Could this be a way to get investment into UK housing?

Jonathan Fryer spoke first. He claimed that the Lib Dems are the most pro-EU Party. He is their number two candidate (it’s a Party list PR system) and he only missed out last from being elected by 0.6% of the vote. He is pretty keen on environmental issues, reform of the EU and good quality, accessible and affordable housing for all. Which was pretty much a familiar theme (to a lessor or greater degree) for all the speakers.

Jean Lambert came next as would be expected emphasised environmental issues to the fore. I like the idea of “every home is its own power station” even thought I am not sure how that will work out in practice.

Warwick Lightfoot appears at first to be the typical Tory Squire caricature with his name, drawl, good suit, public school confidence, occupation and dare I say haircut? But he bravely admitted that his mother had firsthand experience of housing difficulties when she had to flee his father due to domestic violence. He was however "fortunate" that her parents could afford to provide them with a cottage next to their home. He made what was to my ears a rarely heard argument that Margaret Thatcher was actually the first Green British politician! He also suggested that due to complex rules and agreements the UK would suffer financially if the EU actually increased its expenditure on the UK.

Mary spoke last and appealed to everyone present to remember that this election is not about British MP expenses, it’s about Europe, and it’s about reforming the EU agricultural policy and reminding the French that everyone does not live in their countryside. It’s about the nitty gritty of getting environmental policy into actual legislation and it’s about promoting and getting implemented integrated urban development.

In the Q&A I thought that the debate so far had been a little too polite and far too consensual. So I decided to see if there is in fact true red, blue, green or yellow water between the candidates. My question was that health & safety of employees is an EU competence and the recent attempt to end the British opt-out from the working time directorate (WTD) had recently failed in Europe. Since work life balance and occupational stress due to a long hours is a key issue to many housing associations what are the candidates’ views about this issue?

"Allowing" workers to work more than an average of 48 hours per week over a whole year is bad for the employee and the business.

We then had an interesting debate!

Very surprisingly Jonathon Fryer said that the Lib Dems were against the removal of the WTD opt out! He advanced some rather strange arguments around retained firefighters and junior doctors to support this view.

Jean Lambert and the Greens were strongly in favour of getting rid.

Warwick Lightfoot was not only strongly in favour of the opt out but proudly accepted personal responsibility for the opt out while being an economic advisor to the government at that time.

Mary of course pointed out that the Labour MEPs were opposed to the opt out and had stood up to pressure from the British Labour government over this issue. Well done!

All in all a very interesting event, it was perhaps appropriate that this public housing meeting of landlord representatives was disrupted several times due to the anti-social behaviour of certain local residents. The Brigade of Guards had decided to send several military bands and pipers to march around Hyde Park and in doing so had totally drowned out the speakers. For some reason I didn’t foresee any of the hard bitten public housing professionals present going off to apply for ASBOs against them.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Advice to Queen on how to greet Herr Griffin at Garden Party

Hat-tip thingy Comrade Mercader (double click picture)

TUC Pension Member Trustee Conference 2009

"Attached is a pdf of the flyer for this year’s TUC trustee conference, which takes place on 30 June at Congress House. The theme is Weathering the economic storm and speakers include:
Rosie Winterton MP, Minister for Pensions and the Ageing Society; Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary; Jeannie Drake, Acting Chair of the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority; David Norgrove, Chair of the Pensions Regulator; Nigel Peaple, Director of Policy at the NAPF; John Evans, General Secretary of TUAC; the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD; Gillian Tett, Capital Markets Editor, Financial Times; and Colin Melvin, Chief Executive of Hermes Equity Ownership Services

Details are on the TUC website and registration for the conference is available online this year at this address: We cannot accept payment via the website but people can reserve their place online and then send payment separately.

Alternatively delegates are welcome to fill in the form on the flyer and return it with payment as in previous years. Flyers went out to members of the TUC trustee network recently but if you would like paper copies to pass on to trustees, colleagues or activists who you think would be interested in the conference please contact Jennifer on / 020 7467 1222 and we will send them to you".

This is a very, very good conference and I would recommend that all trade union trustees or pension reps should attend. Frankly IMO if you can make it that day it is obligatory to attend if you are a members rep.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Custom House "on the knocker".

On Sunday I joined West Ham comrades at the meeting point in the Custom House Hotel (see photo) to carry out door knocking Voter ID in this traditional Labour Heartland.

It was raining when we started but despite predictions it turned out to be dry and even sunny. I led a canvass team with Councillor Ali and Williams (photo) and despite somewhat confusing road and housing block layout we found our way around ok.

The feedback on the whole was pretty solid – instinctive Labour support amongst all communities. There has always been a working class Tory vote in Newham but even the few true blues we came across were not overtly enthusiastic.

For the first time I did come across a small number of voters who said they were traditional Labour supporters but will not be voting this elections because of the expenses scandal. Despite this we had a reasonable conversation on what issues they thought were important. Their issues and concerns are still Labour e.g. low wages, the important of the NHS, state pensions, fairness and equality.

We will get them back once the current Parliamentary mess is sorted out.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

There is nothing British about the BNP

It’s not often that you will find me praising a website set up by Tim Montgomerie of Conservativehome. is different. While it is not quite in the same league of “Hope not Hate” I for one am really pleased that Tories are also attacking the BNP.

Nothing British” is a campaign against the politics of discrimination, segregation and racial supremacy.

We need to get the message out that the BNP is not at all a "patriotic" or “law and order” party worthy of any protest vote. It is after all - irony of ironies- a Party that believes in completely foreign and alien ideologies – Nazism and Fascism.

Tomorrow morning on my usual jog across “Wanstead flats” I will run across the impact site of a German Nazi V2 rocket attack which killed young British soldiers stationed there in 1944.

No matter how angry or disillusioned, you may feel at the moment about all mainstream Parties, to vote for the BNP would be a betrayal to the memory of all those who fought and died to keep Hitler and Nazism from these shores.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Off message – but I am very fond of this dish especially with cold meats. I am also a huge fan of the author Patrick O’Brian and his Aubrey-Maturin novels.

I really envy anyone who has not yet read any of his works and who has just obtained a copy of the first of the series “Master and Commander”. Enjoy!

I think I am right that former Tory minister William Waldengrave famously described the 20 novel series as cocaine for intellectuals. Obviously not referring to me.

By co-incidence I find today that 19th Century British sailors did not conquer the scourge of scurvy during this time by drinking lime with their rum. Instead what enabled the British Empire to sail and fight in all Seven Seas in relative good health was the consumption of vitamin rich and long shelf life Sauerkraut!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Union’s are good for business

Very interesting post in Stronger Unions about new research on the value to the economy of union reps - this has led to a joint statement released by the TUC, Government and the CBI that “union reps (are worth) between £3.4bn and £10.2bn (net) to the UK economy, on the basis that their presence in a workplace brings about a combination of productivity gains, reduced staff turnover, less time off as a result of sickness, improved health and safety and better training for staff”.

This must be true since the forward of the statement is signed by Lord Mandelson no less!

Actually this makes sense and while some reps may feel a little uncomfortable with such a conclusion I don’t - not least since I sometimes feel that I spend a considerable amount of time every week trying to persuade members that the correct course of action is not to punch their manager’s lights out - et al.

Seriously, there has been countless studies were it has been found that if employees feel that they have no voice or are powerless and unable to influence or change things at work then that employer is in serious trouble.

Green Street Labour Party Stall

Picture of a lively West Ham Labour party stall held yesterday in the heart of the famous Green Street.

The weather held out although it was a little breezy which sent leaflets and newsletter flying. The Party balloons went down very well as usual.

Our MP Lyn Brown, local councillors and party activists (double click on photo) from all over Newham helped out distributing newsletters on both sides of the road and taking up case work. Once again, despite the recent pretty dreadful headlines the feedback was very positive but many peopel were still unaware that the European elections were taking place.

At the same time there were also canvass teams “knocking doors” all over Manor Park ward.

I didn’t really speak to anyone since I spent most of the morning trying unsuccessfully to locate 2 boxes of anti-BNP “Hope not Hate” leaflets which Parcelforce are claiming have been sent to Forest Gate Post Office who in turn deny all knowledge and refer me back to Parcelforce. Hey Ho!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Unison United Left Big Day Out

My many Unison United Left Friends and comrades have asked me to post this invite. Artwork
Comrade Mercader (double click picture)

Rifleman, Labour Councillor and Anti-Fascist Blogger in Helmond

I recommend today's latest post from 2 Rifles Reservist and Ipswich Labour Councillor, Alasdair Ross. Alasdair is on active duty in a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Helmond province, Afghanistan.

He describes the sadness over the loss of Rifleman Sheldon as well as continued fire fights with the Taliban who are launching indiscriminate attacks on the local population as well as the security forces.

The British troops (including the Welsh Guards) are very impressed with the bravery of the Afghan National Army “The Warriors” that they are fighting alongside. I am sure that everyone is pleased to read this encouraging report since we all want the Afghans to take responsibility for their defence as soon as they can so NATO troops can return home. Alasdair also mentions the work done by the troops to improve local people’s lives such as the opening of a new clinic.

I must admit that I am surprised (but pleased) that the British Army has allowed Alastair to “blog” from the front line. I would imagine that there is some form of process he has to go through? However, the Army is now dependent on reservists and Territorials to be operational so it is only right that these citizen soldiers can express themselves in a way (he also “Twitters”) that perhaps the Regular Army personnel should not?

Alastair himself is a fantastic role model. He was born into the Labour movement in Ipswich and had a successful career as a senior non-commissioned officer then left the army and became amongst other things a Labour Councillor. Now, while once again serving his country and putting himself in harms way check out his post “Keep the BNP out of Ipswich”. Great stuff.

While some people are genuinely opposed to NATO being in Afghanistan I think that there is no alternative to military intervention. There are legitimate questions to be asked about certain tactics used but if we allow Afghanistan to return to the hands of the Taliban and to once again be a national training camp for terrorists then this will be a disaster for all – especially for the Afghans themselves.

However there is a terrible price that is being paid and I am sure that everyone’s thoughts will be with the comrades and family of Rifleman Sheldon and the other NATO and Afghan personnel killed or injured.

Canvassing Plaistow North -Sunday 10th May

(Guest post from Newham Councillor Jonathon Knott on canvass last Sunday – I was skiving - so no photos).

On a sunny morning members of Plaistow North ward and West Ham CLP joined together to canvass Plaistow North Ward.

There were 5 Johns!! Our local London Assembly member, John Biggs; John Whitworth, John Saunders, John Cullen and myself.

Other party members present were Lyn Brown MP, Aijaz Sheikh, Ray Smith, Tchavdar Dimitrov, Ellie Robinson, Cllr Conor McAuley, Alan Griffiths, Ann Hitchcock, Cllr Zulfiqar Ali, Cllr Joy Laguda, Shahidur Rahman and David Christie.

Met at 11am at Plaistow Station – glorious weather- some issues at first re: leaflets and voter ID sheets (unhelpfully my printer had screwed up, but we got through that)

We spoke to many residents – no discussion about MP’s expenses – there was a nice feeling from people feeling happier in their area, safer. It was good to hear from a number of former supporters of Respect that they had come back “Home to Labour”.

Afterwards we retired to the Black Lion Pub’s garden for a debriefing with fresh crustacea from the seafood stall adjacent. All in all a productive morning.

Friday, May 15, 2009

In Unison outside Norwich Station on Union Friday

Hope not Hate. Today is “Union Friday” and up and down the country trade union activists will have been campaigning about the threat to our democracy from the BNP and other fascist parties.

I had to represent a union member in Norwich today so in the evening I was able to take part in an UNISON led anti-Nazi leafleting session outside Norwich Railway station. This was with fellow Unison activists and regional officers (Jon, Sasha and Sarah) as well as some very young but enthusiastic anti-fascists.

One thing that did surprise me is that by talking to trade union members I find that many are genuinely unaware of the true nature of the BNP. Now, this is obviously weird to us politicos but I am sure that many people don’t know and will be tempted to vote BNP unless we get the message out.

Levellers' Day - Burford 16th May

On 17 May 1649, three soldiers were executed on Oliver Cromwell's orders in Burford churchyard, Oxfordshire. They belonged to a movement popularly known as the Levellers, with beliefs in civil rights and religious tolerance.

During the Civil War, the Levellers fought on Parliamentary side, they had at first seen Cromwell as a liberator, but now saw him as a dictator. They were prepared to fight against him for their ideals and he was determined to crush them.

Over 300 of them were captured by Cromwell troops and locked up in Burford church. Three were led out into the churchyard to be shot as ringleaders.

In 1975, members of the WEA Oxford Industrial Branch went to Burford to reclaim a piece of history that seemed to be missing from the school books. They held a meeting in remembrance of the Leveller soldiers.

The following year, Tony Benn came and read in the church and in each succeeding year, people have come to Burford on the Saturday nearest to 17 May, debated, held a procession, listened to music and remembered the Levellers and the importance of holding on to ideals of justice and democracy.

Hear and question the following speakers

DR. BRENDA BOARDMAN Environmental Change InstituteOxford University Centre for the Environment http://www.eci. people/boardmanb renda.php

DR. ANTHONY WEBSTERDepartment of Theory & ModellingUKAEA/Euratom Fusion Association, Culham Science Centrehttp://www.fusion. and

JOHN MALONEDevelopment DirectorEnergy4Allwww.energy4all.

Chaired byDENIS GREGORYInternational Labour and Trade Union Studies, Ruskin College, uk

Leading the churchyard ceremonyPROFESSOR CHRIS ROWLANDQueen's College, Oxford.http://resources. theology. staff.phtml? lecturer_ code=Crowland

In the afternoon TONY BENN and ROY BAILEY present THE WRITING ON THE WALL an anthology of dissent in words and music from the fourteenth to thetwenty-first century followed by entertainment fromTRACEY CURTIS

VALE ISLANDERS dancers and musicians who perform English country dances of the ordinary people of the seventeenth century in period costume, will appear in venues throughout Burford during the afternoon.http://www.vale- islanders.

Hat tip Col. Roi. Check out previous post.

Union Friday - Take a Stand against the BNP

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Vote Labour for Cheaper Beer!

Yet another good reason to vote Labour in the elections next month.

Hat-tip thingy to Labour blogger Luke who reports here that in response to some typical hot air from John Redwood MP... “John Spellar MP has obtained figures from the House of Commons Library which show that a lower percentage of the cost of a pint of beer bought in a pub goes on tax now than it did during the Thatcherite years harked back to by John Redwood and the Conservative Party”.

So maybe Gordon should have launched the Party Europe and local government campaign this morning with this winning slogan?

This reminds me why so many bloggers support Labour over cheap “beer and sandwiches” at Congress House!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

UNISON Online Bullying & Harassment Survey

An “On-line” confidential survey has been launched by UNISON into bullying and harassment at work. Check out this link here. UNISON obviously believes that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect while at work. Bullying and harassment are major problems which “...leads to ill health, work related stress and can also be the cause of untold misery to workers. This is not just bad for the workforce but is also bad management practice”.

UNISON has commissioned Portsmouth University to do this research and aim to use it to raise issues with the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and for branches to use it in negotiations with their employers.

This is an excellent initiative and just the sort of evidence based support that hard pressed branch safety reps need on the front line.

This sort of thing is simply “proper” and practical trade unionism.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Stop Herr Griffin and the BNP

From "Hope not Hate" the Youtube video that the BNP tried to Ban. It features BNP leader and National Socialist (Nazi) Nick Griffins and mixes footage from the Nazi propaganda film "Triumph of the Will" with quotes from Griffin.

UNISON NEC ballot finishes this Friday 15 May

Final reminder to those of us who support the forces of light and reason in our great union. If you have not voted yet or know UNISON members who have not then please encourage them to dig out the ballot papers out of their pile on the kitchen chair (check out here, here and here) and send off tomorrow without fail. We know it makes sense.

Monday, May 11, 2009

1st Labour Landslide Victory of 2009

I am just back from a great meeting at the House of Commons of young Newham people from West and East Ham. They had been invited by local MPs Lyn Brown and Stephen Timms.

New electors whose date of birth was on the Newham electoral register were invited. The meeting was about participation in the electoral process and about 120 turned up.

Newham Young Labour provided volunteers to help out and ran a mock election with a ballot box and voting papers. There were stalls on the work of the House of Commons; what major political issues are important to young people and how the political process works.

UNISON sponsored the cost of snacks and soft drinks. The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown sent his apologies with a message of support and best wishes. The event was also well supported by many Parliamentary guest speakers who turned up to address the gathering – John Denham MP, Yvette Cooper MP, Andy Burnham MP, Iain Wright MP, Dawn Primarolo MP, Sion Simon MP and Mike Grapes MP. Also in attendance was Deputy Leader of the Commons, Chris Bryant, and Lord Young (former deputy GS of the CWU).

All of them did address the audience about the problems over expenses and allowances but I think still successfully encouraged everyone to still get involved in politics because politics really matters. Politics is about health services, about jobs, about education and about life chances. Many mentioned that they first got involved in politics as young people themselves because they wanted to “change the world” and how they still want change it.

UNISON Regional Convenor Gloria Hanson (and Newham resident) spoke about the importance of trade unions in the democratic civic process and about her own experiences growing up in Newham. How she is also a mother whose own children were educated in Newham who have now gone on to gain first class honours degrees and how she is also proud to be the first black female regional convenor in UNISON.

Group tours were arranged around the House of Commons.

Afterwards the volunteers were invited by Lyn and Stephen to Strangers Bar for a sherbet.

I was pleased that Housing Minister Iain Wright accepted my invitation to address Labour Link members of UNISON Housing Association Branch on Public Housing in the near future (subject to diary commitments).

I went to a similar event organised by Barking MP Margret Hodge. UNISON NEC member and Barking CLP Louise Couling helped out in both. Many thanks also to Lyn and Stephens Parliamentary staff for all the hard graft in organising the event.

LABOUR LANDSLIDE – as they came into the room the young voters were given a ballot paper to complete secretly and place in ballot box. Of those who voted the result was an absolute landslide for Labour. Labour 48; Tories 6; Lib Dem 5; Green 2; Respect 5; Spoilt 2.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Labour Stall in Canning Town

Yesterday morning we set up a Party stall in Rathbone Market which is in Canning Town, E16. As we were setting up we had a short “ding dong” with a BNP supporter who thought that the repeated use of the “F” word at high volume constituted a coherent political argument about immigration.

It was actually a useful reality check to remind everyone about the BNP. Especially now that their activists are encouraged to wear suits, grow their hair and try to pretend not to be racist Nazi’s.

I thought that it was a shame that the “Hope Not Hate” leaflets and posters have not arrived yet. We will have them for the next stall.

I was actually expecting to get a bit of stick from people about the MPs allowances and expenses. People did come up to you and say “what about expenses” and “what are you going to do about it” but I didn’t pick up any significant anger about the issue although there was an clear expectation that something must be done. Lyn Brown, the West Ham MP came down to help on the stall (confusingly she is not yet the local MP since Canning Town will not form part of her constituency until boundary changes take place next year). I thought she handled this issue very well although most people wanted to discuss individual case work with her rather than national events.

There were also a large number of local people who know Lyn and her family personally. Lyn is Newham born and bred. Her Mum and Dad are also respected local community activists. There are not that many MP’s I think nowadays who could hold street stalls in their constituency and bump into people they went to school with or who knew their sister or went to a club run by the MPs parents.

We had more activists than we needed on the stall so we sent members away to canvass surrounding blocks. At the same time there was another Newham Labour street canvass talking place in Canning Town South ward with about 20 members taking part.

Unlike last week’s stall at Stratford where people seemed to want to talk about national issues. Yesterday we picked up a lot of case work relating to local issues. Canning Town does have a number of serious economic and social problems. There is an ambitious redevelopment plan has just been agreed for the Market (see here) which should help transform the area.

There was another street canvass this morning (I was skiving) and all last week we held telecanvass sessions at the Party rooms in Stratford. A West Ham CLP Facebook Group has been set up by Young Labour activists.

In all I thought the stall went very well. Local residents seemed genuinely pleased that we were there talking to people and standing proud for what we believe in. We will be back.

There was a record 5 local Party members whose first name was “John” at the stall. One of whom disgraced our true Labour movement credentials in the local Market cafe by insisting that I ask for “Peppermint Tea” for him when it was my turn to go for the “Teas and coffees”. Needless to say they only had proper British tea which was hot, strong and refreshing (and of course Indian).

Saturday, May 09, 2009

UNISON London Regional Council Officers 2009

This picture is from our recent first meeting as elected RCO’s following the Regional AGM in March. Front (L-R) Conroy Lawrence (Deputy Regional Convenor); Gloria Hanson (Regional Convenor), Back (L-R) Lynn Bentley (Regional Publicity Convenor), me (Regional Finance Convenor) Gill Brown (Regional Equalities Convenor) and Emma Rolland (Regional Young Persons Convenor). Emma is the new member of our team taking over from Sarah Lewis.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Iceland’s urinal revenge on their missing Bankers

The webs we weave - hat tip thingy to Tom P (no pun intended) who linked to Nudges who credited a Peter Warnock (no hyperlink?).

Pictures of Bankers who “allegedly” fled the Country following the financial crisis are now being placed on the inside of urinals in Icelandic Bars.

Now, following my post yesterday on the “Evil that Banks Do” I hope that people don’t think I am at all anti Bankers!

In fact I have had the privilege of working for two different Banks in my time. The first was admittedly pretty awful and frankly dishonest which ripped off its customers. They sold them completely unsuitable and inappropriate financial products for the high commissions.

While the other Bank was at least while I was there being very professionally and ethically run (It was called at the time I recall the “BCCI in administration”).

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Evil that Banks still do: Public Housing

There were 1.77 million families (4 million individuals) on local authority waiting lists.

Many of whom live in simply appalling housing conditions. Due to the current financial crisis I think it is fair to say that most folk think this figure will go up dramatically.

However, in the midst of this absolute and already grim housing shortage, the UK Banking sector has effectively stopped many (most?) Housing Associations from building any new public housing developments.

This future development disaster (it’s not merely a crisis any more) is mainly because Banks will not provide new loans for development to housing associations without them agreeing to renegotiate any existing loans they have and significantly increasing the interest rate for these old loans.

The Banks now think that they lent housing associations development money to build new homes in the past too cheaply. They want to rebalance their balance sheets and make more money from their existing loans. So they are effectively blackmailing housing associations by saying if you want new loans from us, pay us more for your old loans or else!

Housing associations who can build new homes at current market interest rates are being stopped from building since the cartel of Banks that provide public housing finance are making new development simply uneconomic.

Banks have refused to agree to even minor changes to loans which do not in any way make these loans less secure. They are just using their powerful bargaining position to veto changes to existing agreements which could have resulted in new homes.

Some associations have even been stopped from using equity in the value of their stock to provide security for new development unless they agree to pay higher interest on their existing loans.

The larger groups are trying to get finance from the bond markets but it is very demanding and restrictive to keep the high credit ratings needed to raise the money at any reasonable rate.

Housing associations have usually not been able for understandable reasons to “attack” their lenders over this situation. So there is no public campaign for change.

The state has nationalised many Banks and owns significant chunks of others at great cost to the taxpayer.

What is happening to future housing developments is arguably nearly as bad as mass repossessions? Due in part to pressure by the Government the Banks have agreed to be sensitive to mortgage repossession cases. What about the 4 million on the overcrowding and homeless register who are being effectively refused future rehousing opportunities by the actions of the Banks?

Land prices have collapsed, building contractors are cutting tenders, higher levels of grant are being made available but unless the Banks play ball desperately needed homes will not be built.

It goes without saying that it was irresponsible and unsustainable lending practices which were of course the reason why the housing market is in the mess it is in the first place!

Things have got to change.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

SWP Democracy and the Un-Socialist Activities Recrimination Commission

I have been contacted by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) Democracy and Un-Socialist Activities Recrimination Commission to make comments on its first report into internal democratic arrangements.

This commission was brought about at their last conference by the near collapse of the SWP caused by the split with Respect, expulsions of senior activists and the forced resignations of some of its Central Committee leaders.

The Central Committee decided to learn the lessons from the late Cde Healy and the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) past difficulties and set up an independent truth commission made up of specially handpicked party loyalists to investigate the reasons for the disaster and come up with a democratically arrived means of re-establishing total Central Committee control.

As part of this Commission’s investigation they decided to follow the example of East End working class heroes such as Cde Alan Sugar and carry out meaningful market research by consulting with critical class reformists and Labourite agents of bourgeois influence such as myself. The Central Committee have indeed already followed Cde Sugar techniques of public firing and humiliation of many of its members in recent times.

I personally feel very privileged to have been selected by elements of the Commission and the Central Committee to receive draft reports and to be invited to make comments. I totally understand that due to confidentiality and careerism I am unable to confirm the identity of those who choose to include me in this consultation. I am sure that their reasons for doing so were utterly honourable – after all the public school ethos is very strong in the SWP for understandable demographic reasons.

The internal Bulletin is 50 pages long and as I do have real practical, grown up political and trade union matters to deal with I will try and make comments over the next few weeks. Tonight, I will start my comments with the “Statement of General Principles” (page 3 & 4).

The reaffirmation of democratic centralism (whatever that really means?) is very illuminative since it explains that in SWP speak this means that “democratic party decisions are binding on all, especially the CC and comrades playing leading roles in the struggle (unions, united front’s etc”). So no real change there? all SWP union and united front representatives will have to implement SWP Party decisions (as interpreted by the CC) rather than any internal union or “front” democratic processes. In UNISON this will mean that SWP United Left members have binding instructions to follow SWP CC decisions regardless of any democratic UL mandate or they will be expelled.

Interesting that the commission chooses to slate somewhat their founder and past leaders “Tony Cliff, Mike Kidron and Duncan Hallas played leadership roles despite all living in North London and their lack of office management skills”.

Another comment is the suggestion that the rank and file are too knackered to control their leadership. Too much time spent standing in the rain outside Tesco selling boring and irreverent newspapers?

I note the very belated admission that there had been too much of the tendency “to put down dissenters so severely and comprehensively” and that they had allowed people to be “crushed to the point of humiliation” especially ethnic minorities at meetings. “Nor should there be the fear as – with reason in the past of exclusion, isolation or ostracism for the expression of dissenting views”.

I look forward to making further constructive critical class enemy comments on the Commission’s report. One immediate problem I am told by members is that many of the thugs and bullies who committed the offenses complained of in the first place are still paid up members of the SWP, and many are still in senior positions in the CC and National Committee.

Maybe the Thermidorian’s had the best idea?

Derek Draper Resigns as Editor of Labour List

Dear All,
I am emailing directly because I wanted you to know before anyone else does about developments at

Two weeks ago
I posted on the site saying I was sorry for my role in the Damian McBride affair. Of course I regret ever receiving the infamous email and I regret my stupid hasty reply. Instead I should have said straight away that the idea was wrong.I do ask people to remember, though, that in the end its contents were never published by me or anyone else involved in the Labour party and they would never have seen the light of day were it not for someone hacking into my emails and placing them into the public domain. Because of that, what was a silly idea ultimately destined for the trash can became a national scandal.

Nonetheless, I should have made clear they were unacceptable from the very beginning.On a much smaller note I al so think I got the tone of LabourList wrong sometimes, being too strident, aggressive and obsessed with the "blogosphere".

Having said that I am proud that I was the founder of LabourList. It really was a Labour of love. In just over 100 days there have been nearly 250 contributors, over 500 posts and 18,000 comments. I’d like to think one day I’ll be judged on all of that rather than just one, admittedly awful, email.What has become clear, though, is that my continued editorship can only detract from what LabourList needs to do now.

That is why, after a couple of weeks of reflection, I am passing on the editorship to Alex Smith, who has been a very able Deputy to me from the beginning. I have no doubt that Alex will steer the site to bigger and better things and I urge everyone who wants Labour to have a vibrant, active space on the internet to give him your backing and get involved in whatever comes next.

Derek Draper

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The “Plonker" and "Banana" trade unionists who won't vote Labour

Hat-tip thingy to my new best friend ever, Lambeth UNISON Branch secretary, Nick Venedi. Today on his private blog here he reminds the “plonkers” and “banana’s” in This Great Trade Union Movement Of Ours that there is a huge difference between the Labour Party and the Tories. He also goes on to show in his superb post that there is no alternative to Labour and remind them of the horror (the horror) of Tory Rule.

"Remember the miners strike, the battles and devastation of entire communities by the Thatcher government;

Remember the Sign Off regulations and the fact that TU's had to go out getting every member to sign back on every 3 years;

Remember the utter condemnation by the Tories of the proposal to bring in the Minimum Wage;

Remember Osbornes promise that his first target in government will be the public sector pensions scheme;

And when you remember all of these negative factors (and there are many others) then think again and don't be a banana encouraging people to show their disapproval by either not voting or voting for none mainstream parties that have as much chance of forming a government as I have of being Berlusconis next wife? Don't be a plonker! Vote Labour and help change the party (if that's what you want) from within!!"

I have posted here on what happened to those who thought that there was no difference.

Things are far from perfect with trade unions and this government (e.g. the Post office). In truth the relationship has never been perfect from its very beginning and there has always been constant strife and disagreement - and this will always be so.

The job of the affiliated trade unions is to push our agenda within the Party and government. This is tempered in the certain knowledge that we are part of a movement not its entirety. Most importantly there is also no point whatsoever supporting a Party that is seen solely as our “creature” and would therefore have no chance of ever winning power.

So – in the words of our Nick - don’t be a Plonker, don’t be a Banana - vote Labour! (and if so I say also work for a Labour victory).

Monday, May 04, 2009

Boris – His first 365 days

Only 1095 days more to endure!

Check out this totally objective and of course unbiased first year assessment by Labour London Assembly member, Murad Qureshi (A good UNISON member).

Photo is of Baby Boris practicing being the Mayor - hat-tip thingy to bloggerheads

“Dealing with trade unions when the gloves are off: trade secrets”

Is this what HR really think of us? Top trade union web portal unionreps had a very interesting post this week about a link to an article (here) first published in “Personnel Today” last year. This is the trade paper of the Chartered Institute of Personal and Development (CIPD).

The article was written by an Andy Cook who is ironically a former trade union official turned HR/employment law advisor. Some of the things he discusses aren’t that controversial and are fairly obvious such as the difficulty that unions have being attractive to “Thatcher’s Children” or employers actually communicating with their workforce. But is clear that he advocates using the law to block and frustrate any industrial action.

He advises “Retain a lawyer experienced in employee relations and industrial action law. Most employment lawyers have no relevant experience, even in the big firms”...Allow the union to use "check-off" (ie. members pay their subs through payroll), which gives you information on its membership- invaluable when challenging industrial action. ...Challenge robustly any industrial action - even if you don't go to court, a challenge may help to stop future action if the mistakes are repeated. ..Don’t be afraid to take technical points when challenging industrial action a misplaced word, or a missing number may be enough to get an injunction.

Some trade unionists nostalgically reminisce about a so-called "golden time" when HR (then called “Personnel”) were truly independent and saw their role as to advise management and unions without “fear or favour” to help bring about agreement. Now, while I am not personally convinced that this time ever really existed. I am surprised that there is such an article in the leading HR publication. Why is there no real mention of any alternative conflict resolution except the “courts”! What about arbitration, what about ACAS? Why does it perpetuate the myth that unions in pay negotiations will be fighting a “wider political agenda”? Why is there no recognition that it is actually perfectly legitimate for unions to try and prevent the pay of their members being cut? Unions are also perfectly aware that excessive pay awards can result in job losses and are prepared if necessary to make compromises in order to save jobs and good HR professionals know all this.

The only positive thing that I take away from this is that the author does accept that if the unions are organised and have the support of their members then they are in a strong bargaining position and the only way that employers can oppose them is by a “misplaced word or a missing number”. Also this article is more evidence that we need further reform of the trade union legislation to rebalance the relationship between employers and unions. It is clear that the balance is too far in favour of the employers. As is also entirely self-evident from this article the law is being “misused” in industrial disputes. This may be perfectly legal and I may be naive but I always thought that British law should be about Justice and Fairness for All not just the employers?

This is not just important for the unions but also for UK Plc.

We will never get a culture in place of constructive and positive industrial relations if employers believe that they can always just use the law instead to hammer the workforce into submission. I actually think that the overwhelming majority of HR would agree.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Army Boot Camp Fitness - Paying to be “beasted”

I’m back from a lovely run in the sunshine around Wanstead Park while listening to the radio. By the river Roding I came across the Army Boot Camp Fitness instructor and his “squad” of willing volunteers. He had just stopped the group running and was making them do "press ups" then "star jumps" on the path. It is the same former Paratrooper PTI who is in the Youtube video.

Many moons ago I had a little of this sort of thing – at least I was very young and being paid to do so! I never imagined giving up my Sunday mornings and paying for being "beasted"!

Actually they don’t seem to be as rough on people in practice as they suggest on the video. I quite often see them on Sundays running around the Park and being shouted at but it tends to be encouraging rather than in any way real “beasting”. People seem exhausted but strangely happy. Burning up to 600 calories an hour is I suppose a good way of making up for the beer and curry on the previous Saturday night.

But it’s a strange old world at times.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

West Ham May Day Stall

Today we kicked off the strategy agreed at last Thursday Campaign meeting with a Labour Party May Day stall in Stratford High Street just outside the shopping centre. Lots of red Labour Party balloons for the kids and various leaflets for the parents.

While I don’t think that street stalls are any real substitute for structured political canvassing they are important in promoting the Party in “Main Street”. They are also usually fun events and the chance to catch up on important issues with fellow activists such as the latest gossip and rumour mongering.

Actually I have some of my most interesting conversations with local residents at street stalls. Let’s face it - most contact we have with ordinary people is about voter identification. This also often means that we knock on peoples' doors right in the middle of something exciting on “East Enders” or phone them up as they are about to serve dinner. On a stall people can choose to stop and talk to you about things they think are important.

An off duty nurse from a “life long Labour supporting family” gave me a lengthy ear bashing about how angry the splits and disunity in the Government was making her. She was also annoyed that the local Labour Council and government had done lots of good things but they were not getting this message out to people. At the end of it she thanked me politely for listening and letting her get things off her chest. I hardly said a thing (much to the surprise no doubt of those who know me).

Just listening is something that we “politicos” are not very good at and we should do more of it. Very few people actually want to talk about the 'Today Programme' “big issues of the day” which we obsess about. I had one chap last week stop me outside the Party rooms who also told me at length how furious he was with the press and media for calling offenders who commit street robbery as “muggers” which he thought devalued and trivialised the offence. I actually agree with him but was not able to get a word in. Finally, he thanked me and went away apparently relatively happy as well.

Perhaps there is a lesson here – that in conversation the less you say the more happy people are? Or maybe it is just me?

(Picture of Lyn Brown MP and other West Ham activists)

UPDATE: Hazel and the importance of Labour Party stalls - amongst other things

Friday, May 01, 2009

May Day Good News - Co-op applies to takes on Fund Managers

I wasn’t able to go to today’s trade union May Day march in London but instead I will post some good Labour movement news. I heard this week that the Asset management arm of the Co-op has applied to the Financial Services Authority (FSA) to be external fund managers.

At the moment the Co-op has its own in-house team of managers to run its successful range of mostly ethical investment funds. But they only manage in-house Co-op funds. Now the Co-op has decided to apply for permission from the FSA to make tenders as fund managers to all Pensions, insurance and Charity funds. I cannot find any Internet link but I am assured by a reliable source that this is happening and it is public.

This is really good news. While I am sure that the Co-op is not perfect its mutual values in equity investments has proved itself yet again in the current financial crisis.

There are many good banking and private fund managers but also too many rogues who frankly just rip off pension funds in return for rotten performance. Having a major player in the market place that is successful and ethical will drive up standards across the whole industry.

I would also imagine that the prospect of having the Co-op as Fund managers will be very attractive to many fund trustees. I am sure of course that scheme financial advisers will "welcome" the entry of the Co-op and I will be interested to see who (assuming that the FSA gives permission to the Co-op to become external fund managers) shortlists them to a beauty parade for a new investment mandate (or not).