Sunday, January 31, 2010

Asbestos: A legal Update.

This (late) post is about the UNISON London “Safety Network” meeting that took place in December. All London UNISON branch health & safety officers are invited to these lunchtime events which take place after the main meeting of the London Health & Safety committee.

We had Lorna Webster as our guest speaker. Lorna is an Asbestos Team Supervisor with Thompson’s solicitors. Here is some of her stuff I thought useful

To be successful in any personal injury claim you have to prove the employer was “negligent” and that the injury was foreseeable. Problem with asbestos is the exposure to harm was on average 40 years. It may be as low as 10 or as high as 60 years. It is the asbestos law at the time of exposure which is relevant not now.

We need to prove that the employers knew (or ought to have known) the risk and should have not have allowed employees to use asbestos or given them adequate protection.

Types of asbestos – Blue “crocidolite” (and the most toxic); Brown “amosite” (bad) and White “chrysotile” (Not as toxic as Blue or Brown but wrongly thought to be “not dangerous”) the most widely used. In 1986 it was estimated that the UK had imported 6 million tonnes of asbestos.

Diseases - different asbestos related diseases. Pleural Plaques (usually symptomless - compensation now stopped); Pleural thickening (range from no symptoms to quite bad); Asbestosis (range from no symptoms but can be fatal); Asbestos Induced Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma (fatal – no known cure).

TUC statistics that 1:100 men born in 1940’s will die of mesothelioma. Currently 1800 asbestos related deaths per year rising to 2000 by 2016.

Dangers of asbestos known since at least 1899. There are a number of regulations and reports throughout the last century. If exposure was before 1965 you have to prove that it was “substantial”.

There are two types of settlements. Traditional “full & final settlement” and “provisional damages” settlement. Thompsons usually advise live members with non-fatal cases against settling on a “full and final basis”. If the member were to develop a more serious related asbestos condition later they or their estate and/or dependants could come back for significantly more compensation.

Members may also be entitled to Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB - if at least 14% disabled due to that condition). Mesothelioma claims are fast tracked by DWP and are awarded 100% disability. For more serious cases there may be also disability care benefits. NB: DWP benefits have to be repaid if personal injury claims are successful. If IIDB successful they may be entitled to one off payment under Pneumoconiosis etc (Workers Compensation) Act 1979.

In some cases someone has mesothelioma not due to work (such as a wife washing husband’s overalls) they are not entitled to IIDB but maybe to care benefits and a one off lump sum under the 2008 “Diffuse Mesothelioma Scheme”.

Current asbestos campaigns include compensation for Plural Plaques; Trigger Issue Test case (some insurers are shamefully refusing to pay claiming they are only liable to the asbestos exposure not the development of the disease – payments have been stopped pending possible appeal to House of Lords) and Employers’ Liability Insurance Bureau (ELIB); One in 20 claims fail because the employers has gone out of business and the insurer is untraced. There should be a similar scheme as the ABI motor insurance scheme that pays compensation to people injured by uninsured drivers and finally the campaign for a National Centre for Asbestos related diseases. The Government does not fund research into asbestos related diseases and Mesothelioma is the least researched of the top 20 cancers.

What to do? If a union rep is approached by a member with an asbestos related condition it is essential that they are referred for legal advice. It would be useful if member could get a short letter from GP confirming diagnosis and date this was confirmed. There is the usual 3 year limitation on claims (the date the member became aware or ought to have been aware of condition related to their work). Advise member they will need their full employment history. Thompsons will then contact them and give advice.

The sadist stories are of wives who died from asbestos inhaled while washing their husband’s work overalls or even children dying after cuddling their father while he was in his work clothes.

Personally, although I appreciate the good work done by trade union lawyers such as Thompsons I think that a far better solution to all work related personal injury cases is that it should be taken out of the civil courts and that decent “no fault” compensation should be paid to all workers who suffer from work related activities, paid for by an industry levy.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Southpawpunch “fesses up” as paid anti-trot Labour "agent provocateur"

The self proclaimed Revolutionary Socialist Columnist Southpawpunch (see what is believed to be the only known public picture of him left - of course) admits here on in a comment he made (bizarrely) on my post about the “Roding Valley Way" (comment 29 January) that he is actually a paid double agent of the Labour Party!

He confesses to receiving “my cheques, direct from Labour HQ”

His mission was to ensure the Party had “no credible” Left wing enemies. By “scoring many direct hits on the muddle-headed, shilly shallying of the useless Labour 'Left'(sic)”.

Southpawpunch claims also to “have managed to completely discredit the ostensible Trotsykist take on the world by making the most ultraleft points this side of Left Communism (and showing their vast rightward shift from Bolshevism)”

Well, if this is true then job well done Matey!

Southpawpunch is obviously a very busy chap. As well as causing problems for my blogging mucker and keen Labour Party supporter Dave Osler (see here) he is also apparently “a Liberal Democrat candidate with a possibility of getting into parliament this time”.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Workers Memorial Day - 28 April 2010

Great news about Workers Memorial Day being given official recognition by the government. Check out TUC response and... we all need to start planning for this years event yesterday.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Yvette Cooper): I am pleased to announce the publication of the Government's response to the consultation exercise proposing the official recognition of Workers Memorial Day.

The Government's response (Cm 7789) has been laid before Parliament and will be published later today.

The consultation exercise attracted a large number of responses, the overwhelming majority of which were strongly supportive of the proposal. I am therefore delighted to announce that the UK will officially recognise Workers Memorial Day, and that this recognition will take formal effect this year on 28 April, the international day of action for safety and health at work. The day is already widely commemorated in the UK and official recognition will reinforce its significance and raise awareness of the workers who are killed, disabled, injured or made unwell each year by their work.

Commemorations will continue to be led by individuals, employers, trade unions and community organisations. In keeping with the outcome of the consultation, the Government will encourage commemorations to be held on the day itself throughout the UK. The Government and Ministers will help support and promote these commemorations.

Official recognition is a tribute to all those who have campaigned long and hard for such recognition, including bereaved families, trade unions, campaign groups, and many other organisations and individuals. It is also recognition of the importance of work to improve health and safety among the working population.

Copies of the response are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. It is also available on the DWP website at:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I am Seismic Shock

Check out Modernity blog here on the campaign against the mistaken involvement of the Police in an attempt by some very stupid people to shut up blogger “Seismic Shock”.

While I can understand that the Police felt that they had to investigate the complaints made against “Seismatic Shock” they should have completed their investigations and told all parties that there was clearly no case to answer.

Which I suspect they did not and instead tried to appease both parties.

I do think that the CPS need to issue some guidance to Police on such issues or if this is not possible then we need to update the law to take into account the phenomenon of New Media and in particular “blogging”. The Police have more than enough to do without getting involved in such essential silliness.

Dave, Alex and I can also definably claim to say “We have been in Seismic Shock for nearly 3 years”. The law is a banana on several fronts with regard to these matters IMO.

IMO – In My Opinion. Nothing more, nothing less. Who cares what I think? Surely if something is really offensive there must be real evidence of intent, significant harm and gross inaccuracy.  Any response by the "authorities" must also be proportional.

Dear Branch Secretary...nomination request for Community SGE

Dear Branch Secretary

I am writing to ask your branch to consider nominating me for the General Seat on the new Community Service Group Executive.

I am a lifelong trade unionist and have been a member of UNISON for nearly 17 years. I am a member of the UNISON Housing Associations Branch where I am a steward, Health & Safety Officer and Labour Link Officer.

My first paid job was as a welfare rights advisor in an inner city community centre. I am now employed as a Housing Officer for a large Housing Association after being TUPE’d from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

Members working in the community and voluntary sector know all too well about job insecurity and instability. More often than not jobs are reliant on public funding and are only renewed if and when funding has been secured. Most members in our sector have had to deal with numerous reorganisations and being TUPE’d time and time again due to cuts in funding.

Across the sector there are a wide range of employers from the very small employing just 1 or 2 staff to the very large. Some of the smaller employers are inexperienced and whilst they want to do the right thing for social justice – this doesn’t always apply to how they treat and manage their staff. We need to support our members that feel isolated at work and ensure that they know that UNISON can support them and how they can access this support.

I believe we must build better organisation for our members and stewards. We need to build stewards’ networks so that they can support each other and share knowledge, ideas and experiences. I would like to see more training introduced on issues that are of particular concern to UNISON members in the Community Service Group – like funding cuts, re-structuring, and dealing with poor management.

I hope your branch will consider nominating me to represent your members in this sector. I am committed to listening to their views, making their voices heard and ensuring they get better support and the resources they deserve.

If you would like to discuss this statement please give me a ring or contact me on john.m.grayATntlworldDOTcom.

Yours faithfully

John Gray

Community is the brand new “Service Group” in UNISON for those of us who work in the community and voluntary sector. It will be the third biggest “Service Group” in UNISON with already over 60,000 members.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Boris fails to protect London and their Bobbies

Interesting bits and bobs about Boris as he surpasses himself by breaking two manifesto commitments in only one day - Well done Boris!

firstly by resigning today as chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, reportedly through lack of time - but no sign of him giving up his £250,000 second job on the Daily Telegraph....isn't it time he put Londoners first?

secondly by presenting a budget today, that specifically calls for 455 FEWER police for London - despite Boris Johnson promising that tackling crime and MORE police would be his top priority as Mayor. (page 6, 5.16: .

Boris Johnson & the Metropolitian Police Authority

I will:
1. Provide strong leadership
• By taking responsibility and chairing the Metropolitan Police Authority

and using my influence to tear up red tape and needless form-filling, so
we can get more police out on the streets. and:

It is important for the Mayor to take a public lead, so I will chair the
< Metropolitan Police Authority. I will take personal responsibility. No offence
will be too trivial to demand my attention. No challenge will be so big that I
shrug my shoulders and pass the buck.

In his manifesto Boris Johnson pledged to personally chair the Metropolitan Police Authority.

“The Mayor of London has the right to Chair the Metropolitan Police Authority – the body set up to scrutinise and support the work of the Metropolitan Police Service. Boris Johnson will exercise this right so that there is a direct link between the police and the Mayor, so the Mayor is more accountable for what happens in the police.

Chairing the MPA will enable the Mayor to get directly involved with the day-to-day scrutiny of the police and get more officers on the streets.”
Boris Johnson, Crime Manifesto, p 9

Following his first MPA meeting he described it as “vital” that the Mayor “takes responsibility” for work on crime and policing – his “most important priority”.

“I am proud to be chairing my first meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority today. Crime and safety is the biggest issue for Londoners and my most immediate priority as Mayor of London. It is vital that the Mayor takes responsibility for making our capital a safer place, so today is an important element of our work on policing and crime.”
Boris Johnson, Mayoral Press Release, 6 October 2010

“London Mayor Boris Johnson has said he is stepping down as the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA).  It is believed he made the decision because he was finding it difficult to devote enough time to the job. “
BBC News Website, 27 January 2010,

Despite the time pressures, Boris Johnson continues to write a weekly column for the Telegraph, for which he is paid £250,000.  Boris Johnson has described the £250,000 he earns each year for writing a newspaper column as “chicken feed”.

David Cameron, the Tory leader, has ordered his shadow cabinet to give up extra work in the run-up to the general election to show their “commitment”.

But Mr Johnson, who earns almost £140,000 as Mayor of London, insisted that it was “wholly reasonable” for him to write newspaper columns because he did them “very fast”. Asked about the newspaper earnings he replied: “It’s chicken feed.” Pressed on whether voters would agree with that description, the Mayor said that he was being “frivolous”.

He told the BBC’s HARDTalk programme: “I happen to write extremely fast. I don’t see why on a Sunday morning I shouldn’t knock off an article, if someone wants to pay me for that article then that’s their lookout and of course I make a substantial donation to charity.
The Times, 14 July 2009

Sodexo North Devon Victory Rally

Great victory for UNISON low paid hospital workers.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

100 Days to Beat the BNP

Dear Friend

Tomorrow (27th January) we have just 100 campaigning days left before the local elections in Barking and Dagenham. That's 100 days for us to see off the threat from the BNP once and for all.

Barking Labour Party have been actively campaigning against the BNP since the facist party gained 12 seats at the 2006 local elections. We have been out every single Saturday on the doorstep talking to residents about the issues which matter to them and have backed this up with phone canvassing, leaflets and newsletters.

Following Nick Griffin announcing his intention to run for the Barking parliamentary seat, our ward teams have been out in force and we have held three hugely sucessful days of action attended by between 50-100 Labour activists and supporters. Through the Days of Action alone, we have spoken to over 2 000 residents.

The coming election campaign will be one of the most important campaigns Barking Labour Party has ever fought. The reprecussions of how people vote here on May 6th will be felt around the country.

I am now asking for your help in the final 100 days of our campaign. There will be activity taking place in Barking every day from now until May 6th.

Our next Day of Action will be on 13th February, meeting at Chadwell Heath Train Station at 10am and 1pm. It would be great to see you there.

If you can not make Saturdays and/or would like to do some door knocking, leafletting or phone canvassing on another day of the week then please do e-mail barkinglabourcampaignsAThotmailDOTcom with the subject line 'FIND ME A CAMPAIGN' and your availability and we will let you know where activity is taking place for you to join.

Please do make an effort to help in Barking in whatever way you can. If every one who receives this e-mail can commit to just one out of the 100 days we have left, then we will be so much closer to putting an end to the far rights dreams of winning a local council and a Westminster seat.

I look forward to seeing you in Barking soon.

Best wishes

Margaret Hodge

Separated at Birth: Socialist Party desperately seeking a bit of love

When I was 16 I was a part time Vernons Football pools collector. Vernons also use to run a very poplar “Spot the Ball” competition.

Let’s now all play “Spot the Difference” between these two remarkably similar communications sent out by Hannah and Roger to various branches this month. Both of whom are Socialist Party England & Wales (aka SPEW) NEC members of UNISON.

Amazingly Hannah seems to think that Stockton branch is in North West region not Northern region. This will no doubt come as a bit of a shock to the branch!

I can only assume that the SPEW Executive Committee has decreed that all its democratic centralists must for some obscure dialectic reason believe that the Tees flows west into the sea. Winston Smith would understand.

Apart from this the similarities in these faux “personal” letters are striking. While I am sure that the forces of light and the reason in the union may well have been tempted down a similar path in the past. I am certain that there would have of course been good reasons in their case.

Now, of course a possible innocent explanation for all this could be a well known theory about certain advanced primates, typewriters and Shakespeare.

But... I better not go down that road.

For now (double click picture to bring up detail).

Hat tip thingy An Bannour

Monday, January 25, 2010

Burns Night? - so what's all that about then?

I couldn't do it today but I will be cooking this week some of the Haggis (with traditional Neeps and Tatties) that I captured during the hunt the other weekend, washed down with a wee dram (or three) for my very lucky fellow housing officers. They cannot wait! (honest)!

Hat-tip UNISONactive

On a visit to a hospital the Prince of Wales goes up to a bed and asks the patient how he’s doing. The patient whispers “We sleekit cowerin, timourous beastie”. At the next bed, the patient answers, “A man’s a man for a’ that”. Puzzled, the Prince of Wales moves on to the next bed and the patient says, “My luve is like a red red rose”.

The royal visitor then asks the nurse “What’s going on? - “It’s the Burns unit sir”, she says.

Such is the fame of Robert Burns that people get that joke all across the English speaking world – and further.

In 2008, the Independent newspaper said that Burns Night “is the night that the Scots behave oddly. They put on their tartan, stuff themselves with haggis, neeps and tatties, "sit bousing at the nappy getting an' getting fou and unco happy".

Odd it may be to the suits and cravats at the Independent, but it is a unique part of Scotland’s traditions.
Only we have a supper dedicated to a poet and it is only to Burns.  You don’t hear of a Shakespeare Supper, a Dickens Dinner, a Tolstoy Tea, a Balzac Barbecue or a McGonagall Munch, so why is Burns so special?

In 1796 on the 21st July Robert Burns died. Why did his friends organise a supper in 1802 so that they could gather, read out his poems, sing his songs, have a meal of haggis and drink to his memory? And why will people around the world this week still be celebrating Burns?  Does the fact that, in the 1700s, an amazing 75% of Scots were literate have anything to do with it?

Had Robert Burns lived today, his earnings from one song alone -- Auld Lang Syne -- would have made him a multi-millionaire on a par with writers like Paul McCartney. Yet, when he died, aged thirty-seven, he was a poor man – partly due to the same injustices he so brilliantly observed in many of his works.   He was a proud and generous man, who dared to dream of a society where neither rank nor wealth mattered - Burns the revolutionary.

He also loved Scotland and dared to write Scots Wha Hae only 40 years or so after the 1745 rebellion – combining patriotism and a hate of oppression.

Wha for Scotland's King and Law, Freedom's sword will strongly draw,

Freeman stand or freeman fa', Let him follow me!

By oppression's woes and pains, By your sons in servile chains,

We will drain our dearest veins, But they shall be free!

The man of passion and tenderness. Ex First Minister Jack McConnell once said, “The spirit of Robert Burns is the spirit of Scotland, - a country of passion, one always open to new ideas and a place where people of all backgrounds and cultures can flourish together”.

That passion, tenderness, empathy for the living being – and closeness to the earth - also manifested itself in the few lines almost all of the population can recite 200 years later – the lines written by Burns when he is horrified he may have destroyed a field mouse’s home:

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie, O, what a panic's in thy breastie!

Thou needna start awa sae hasty, Wi bickering brattle!

I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee, Wi' murdering pattle.

I'm truly sorry man's dominion, Has broken Nature's social union,

An' justifies that ill opinion, Which makes thee startle

At me, thy poor, earth born companion, An' fellow mortal!

The man of humour. The fun shines through from Tam O’Shanter, to the wicked portraits of establishment figures, to the lyrical ‘To a Louse- On seeing one on a lady's bonnet at church’.

Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner, Detested, shunn'd by saunt an' sinner,

How daur ye set your fit upon her -- Sae fine a lady!

Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner, On some poor body.

But even then, Burns’ piercing insight finishes the poem with lines often used to this day to underline self-awareness and slam self-importance or pomposity …

O wad some Power the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us!

It wad frae monie a blunder free us, An' foolish notion:

What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,
An' ev'n devotion!

And the other man of passion. The man who had a fair attraction for the lassies – but more of that later.  There’s no doubt Burns was a revolutionary of his time. A supporter of the French Revolution, the man who dreamed of a society where neither rank nor wealth mattered.

Unlike Byron and Shelley, who were members of quite wealthy families, Burns was the son of a working gardener. Burns didn’t identify with the people from the outside like Shelley. He knew the people, because he was one of them.

He started work at the plough when he was 14. In his own words, his life consisted of "combining the gloom of a hermit with the toil of a galley slave." His first poem, Handsome Nell, was written at the age of 16.

We’re having Burns Suppers in a year when we’ll have a general election. That led Colin Fox to recently write of the message in ‘Ballad of Mr Heron’s Election’ where Burns’ supports a Whig standing for parliament. Burns’ vision of a truly representative House of Commons written more than 200 years ago still has something to say today.

We are no tae be bought and sold, Like nowte and nags, and a that

Then let us drink: ‘The Stewartry, Kerroughtree’s laird, and a’ that

Our representative to be: For weel he’s worthy a’ that

For a’ that and a’ that Here’s Heron yet for a’ that!

A House of Commons such as he, They wad be blest that saw that.

And in the face of the prevailing views about slavery at the time Burns lived, he wrote a short poem in 1792 called The Slave’s Lament, showing that empathy again, about the homesickness of a man snatched from Senegal and put to work on a Virginia plantation. Burns gets inside the person. He humanises and challenges. It is possibly the first in the English language from the perspective of a slave.

It is a poem the famous African American author and activist Maya Angelou has said used to inspire her students.

It was in sweet Senegal, That my foes did me enthral

For the lands of Virginia, -ginia, O Torn from that lovely shore

And must never see it more, And alas! I am weary, weary, O!

All on that charming coast is no bitter snow and frost, Like the lands of Virginia,—ginia, O:

There streams for ever flow, and there flowers for ever blow, And alas! I am weary, weary O:

There streams for ever flow, and there flowers for ever blow, And alas! I am weary, weary O:

The burden I must bear, while the cruel scourge I fear, In the lands of Virginia,—ginia, O;

And I think on friends most dear, with the bitter, bitter tear, And alas! I am weary, weary O:

And I think on friends most dear, with the bitter, bitter tear, And alas! I am weary, weary O:

Less than half a century after Scottish clans had risen against the English Crown, the establishment was edgy, with many people accused of sedition, treason, or sympathising with the reform movement.

The enlightenment was well under way and the concepts of liberty, brotherhood and equality – the Rights of Man -had already been espoused in Scotland, by Voltaire in France and Paine in the new America, making the British establishment even more edgy.

Yet, amidst all this, Burns cast caution to the wind, and greeted the French Revolution. In Why Should we idly waste our Prime - Repeating our oppressions? He writes the potentially dangerous lines:

"Proud Priests and Bishops we'll translate, And canonise as Martyrs;

The guillotine on Peers shall wait; And Knights shall hang in garters.

Those Despots long have trod us down, And judges are their engines;

Such wretched minions of a Crown < Demand the People's vengeance!

Today tis theirs. Tomorrow we Shall don the Cap of Libertie!"

Burns revolted against all forms of oppression and hypocrisy. Brought up as a Presbyterian, he had little time for the clergy, as we see from the poem "Holy Willy's Prayer” poking fun at the self-important and hypocritical church elder.

O Lord, Thou kens what zeal I bear, When drinkers drink, an' swearers swear,

An' singing here, an' dancin there, Wi' great and sma';

For I am keepit by Thy fear Free frae them a'.

But yet, O Lord! confess I must, At times I'm fash'd wi' fleshly lust:

An' sometimes, too, in worldly trust, Vile self gets in;

But Thou remembers we are dust, Defil'd wi' sin.

O Lord! yestreen, Thou kens, wi' Meg Thy pardon I sincerely beg;

O may't ne'er be a livin' plague To my dishonour,

An' I'll ne'er lift a lawless leg Again upon her.

And the list of folk he had no time for was reasonably long.

It extended to lawyers, wealthy landowners, aristocrats, politicians and kings. In Tam O' Shanter, the climax is a witches' Sabbath with all kinds of gruesome sights. And pride of place is given to lawyers and priests:

"Three Lawyers' tongues, turned inside out, Wi' lies seamed like a beggar's clout;

Three Priests' hearts, rotten, black as muck, Lay stinking, vile, in every neuk."

Burns could indeed be reckless. When he was hoping for support from the local gentry for the first edition of his poems, he didn’t spare the landlord and their ladies in the Twa Dogs, where he uses a laird's pet and a working collie to discuss how their masters live.

Their days insipid, dull and tasteless, Their nichts unquiet, lang an’ restless,

The men cast out in party-matches, Then sowther a’ in deep debauches

Ae nicht they’re mad wi’ drink and whoring .

Niest day their life is past enduring. His address to George the Third in A Dream takes even more risks but makes the point powerfully:

Far be’t from me that I aspire, To blame your legislation

Or say ye wisdom want, or fire < To rule this mighty nation.

But faith I muckle doubt, my Sire, Ye’ve trusted ministration

To chaps, wha in a barn or byre Wad better fill their station

Than courts yon day.

But the establishment got its revenge in other ways. In 1789, the year the Bastille fell, he was working in the excise office. In 1791 he was able to give up farming as a full time port officer. But further promotion was hindered by his outspoken views.

But the words he wrote still inspire those across the world today who resist oppression and who cherish freedom and equality.  And let’s finish by looking at Burns and the lassies.  Burns loved people - especially women and quite a few of them in his lifetime.

He had a total of twelve children by four women, including four by Jean Armour before they married and five after.  All this was often used to criticise Burns, but in those days such things were by no means unusual. What was unusual is that Burns looked upon all the children he fathered as his own, and not just the mother's, responsibility.

The tenderness of his love poems resonates today as much as it must have done 200 years ago.  The beauty, the sentiments, the warmth, the naturalness and the rhythms of poems which were often meant to be sung do not go out of date and have not gone out of date.

Ae Fond Kiss must be one of the most beautiful. After meeting Agnes McLehose in Edinburgh, they carried on a correspondence as Clarinda and Sylvander. The relationship suffered after he left Edinburgh and took up with Jean Armour again, not to mention an affair with Agnes’s maid before that. 
But when Burns heard Agnes (Nancy) was heading to the West Indies, he wrote Ae Fond Kiss – a masterpiece of love, despair and hopelessness - and sent it to her.

I'll ne'er blame my partial fancy, Naething could resist my Nancy:

But to see her was to love her; Love but her, and love for ever.

Had we never lov'd sae kindly, Had we never lov'd sae blindly,

Never met-or never parted, We had ne'er been broken-hearted.

In 1790, Burns wrote ‘John Anderson My Jo’ one of his most touching lyrics, written from a wife to her husband in old age, celebrating enduring love.

John Anderson, my jo, John, We clamb the hill thegither;

And monie a canty day, John, We've had wi' ane anither:

Now we maun totter down, John But hand in hand we'll go,

And sleep thegither at the foot John Anderson, my jo

A Red Red Rose is probably Burns’ most famous love song and has been quoted by Bob Dylan as an inspiration in his writing.

It is written to someone he has parted from – and who he hopes to meet again one day. People read a lot into the complex images in this song. Did Burns’ mean the interpretation that the rose ‘newly sprung in June’ would of course wither in time?

Did Burns even write it, or was it one of the 600 songs and poems he collected? Was it in fact another poem to Nancy, three years later?  For me it is pure Burns, reflecting about the love of falling in love and a beautiful passionate declaration of that love.

O my Luve's like a red, red rose, That's newly sprung in June:

O my Luve's like the melodie, < That's sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass, So deep in luve am I;

And I will luve thee still, my dear, Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear, And the rocks melt wi' the sun;

And I will luve thee still, my dear, While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve! And fare-thee-weel, a while!

And I will come again, my Luve, Tho' 'twere ten thousand mile!

So who was Burns and why do we celebrate him?  There are people that will argue all day about that and he has been seen as different things at different times.  He was a man of great complexity – yet great simplicity.  A man who loved the lassies but didn’t forget his responsibilities. A man who loved to love.  A man who saw through the frills and front of society and told it how it was.  A man with faults but who knew his faults better than anyone else.  A patriot, but also an internationalist. A lover of Scotland but a man who knew Scotland’s faults and knew the kind of Scotland he wanted to live in.

And a man with a deep belief in equality. A democrat and a man with no truck for privilege and oppression. A man who could sit inside the feelings of a slave. 
No better words sum that up than the ones that opened the new Scottish Parliament and will be repeated around the world this week. Words that have inspired many who have striven for equality over the years.  Simple words with an optimistic – but I hope an inevitable prediction.

For a' that and a' that, It's coming yet for a' that

That man tae man the world o'er, Shall brithers be for a' that.

I give you Scotland's unique and special toast - the immortal memory of Robert Burns.
John Stevenson

With grateful thanks to those I borrowed from

Letter from Nigeria (2)

See previous post here. A friend has forwarded me this report which arrived last night 24 January 2010.

I guess by now the whole world knows what has been happening in Kuru Jenta. I assume you have read or seen the reports from AFP, Al Jazeera and the BBC, all of which seem to accurately depict the situation in our village. Well over 160 bodies have so far been recovered, but there are still more scattered around the area and it will take some time before the final toll is known. I feel extremely bitter that despite all efforts this needless slaughter was allowed to happen. I sincerely hope that a proper investigation will be carried out by both local and international bodies, that justice will prevail, and those responsible be appropriately punished. Unless this happens we will continue to see endless repetitions of these tragedies.

Our farm is more or less intact. Our store was looted and four of our six water pumps stolen. We have managed to recover most of them. Our crops are still there, but very dry, and need several days of watering before we can start harvesting again.

As you know, our Muslim staff are all gone. We have confirmed that several of them including women and some of the older ones who were security guards have been killed, some of the young ones are in refugee camps with the remains of their families, and some of them are still not accounted for. The condition of the corpses recovered by the Red Cross and military authorities was such that identification is virtually impossible, as they were either burnt, or decomposed in the wells into which they were dumped. So we may never know the actual fate of some of our workers.

We are currently assessing the future of the farm. We have assembled a skeleton staff of some of our old workers, but we have many problems to sort out before things are returned to normal. The Christian staff who are around all had their houses burnt, as the whole village was completely razed, so they have no where to live. They also lost all of their belongings, and need to be resettled, rooms rented for them in nearby settlements, and provided with basic necessities like mattresses, blankets, cooking utensils and clothes for themselves and their children. If we can do this, then they should be able to do a reasonable amount of work on the farm before we can engage some new staff.

Our first priority at the moment is ensuring that those of our staff who are in refugee camps are safely transported to neighbouring states like Bauchi and Kaduna where many of them have relatives they can stay with. It is very painful to see them as refugees, and most of them have lost members of their families. We are trying to raise funds for their transportation, as transport fares around the Jos area are extremely high and buses are very difficult to get.

We will definitely not be able to deliver any vegetables this coming week. But we will use the time to try to get the farm into some reasonable shape, and will let you know before the end of the week whether we will be able to begin delivering the following week,.ie the first week of February. For the past week the banks in Jos have not been functioning, and everyone has run out of cash. The little money we had in hand at the start of the crisis has been used to support our staff who literally have nothing left by way of food or belongings. Petrol is also extremely difficult to come by. So these things will have to normalise somewhat before we are in a position of resume deliveries.We will also have to see if we can recover from the losses we have suffered sufficiently to be able to run the farm.

We would like to thank all of our customers for their support by way of encouragement, and also donations made to the Red Cross and other agencies for the refugees. I know you have all done a lot to help, and all of us at ****** ******do appreciate it very much.

We will keep you up to date with developments, and write again after a couple of days when we see how far we can go this week to revive the farm. We would love to be able to resume deliveries the following week, but as I said, it depends on many factors that are not in our hands.

To all of you who have expressed concern about my own safety and that of our remaining staff, you can put your minds at rest. As of today, there are three armed soldiers posted in front of our house in Jos to prevent any retaliatory attacks. As you know, my name was mentioned prominently in several newspaper accounts and some people here are not very happy with me. But rest assured that we are well protected. I have lived in Nigeria since the Civil War, and have seen many things here, so this is by no means my first experience of crisis. But it has certainly been one of the most traumatic because of my personal involvement with the people concerned.

Letter from Nigeria (1)

This was forwarded to me by a friend on 20 January 2010. There are two separate authors of this report.

'We are having problems in Jos. There was a lot of fighting in parts of the town yesterday, and we are under dusk to dawn curfew. The army and mobile police are patrolling the streets and there is still a lot of shooting.'

As you know there were a lot of problems there in the summer - (one of my contacts was on his way up to Kaduna last summer before getting a phone call from his employer to turn back immediately or face certain death at the hands of the rioters). I suspect that it has been sparked by the BBC report on Yar Adua's health which has been widely screened and commented upon here. There is a great deal of unease on both sides about the 'Northern Agenda' and the possibility that the presidency will not rotate as it is supposed to do. The press here is pretty robust about Goodluck Jonathan, the VP, and his apparent vaccilations while the 'man on top of the Abuja omnibus' is getting pretty nervous about the forthcoming elections. The first new posters have been pasted up over the weekend here and their are rumours of a stitch up by the elite. No one seems to be talking about a military coup though - there does not seem to be any soldier with sufficient stature.

Sorry about this but a powercut wiped out the some of the message. It is a fact of life here - although we do have water most of the time.

The problems up in Jos have piled up in recent years. This area is basically a Christian area with fertile land producing for the capital. As the north has gradually become more arid, Muslims have moved south and are now competing for the available land. The weather this year has been awful with the rains that should have finished in September going on well into November with the cooling Harmattan being rather weaker than usual too. This has meant that a lot of the crop has simply washed away or rotted in the fields. Storage facilities and greenhouses have collapsed under the weight of water and prices in the market have been incredibly high - a cauliflower in Abuja was selling at 12 quid a go before Xmas.

The moves to adopt Sharia law ever further south has also had its effect. Christian churches here bear no resemblance to those in Europe but are far more 'Evangelical' and unregulated than elsewhere. Pastors depend on their parishioners for their income - tithes are a part of life here - and are more than able to raise tensions when they feel that their incomes and livlihoods might be at risk. Similarly, militant mosques are also a feature.

So far there has not been a spill over into the capital - despite the BBC's attempt to portray a rather feeble routine demo as a serious attempt to destabilise the country. The fact that the Xmas bomber was a Nigerian has also raised tensions somewhat; Nigerians are patriotic, dislike being put on US 'watch lists' and there is inevitably a level of support for Al Queda at street level - but nothing widespread as to make a westerner feel uncomfortable as yet.

Needless to say, no-one is looking forward to an election. And there is a residual longing in some quarters for a return to military rule. Abachi was not universally unpopular here.

This morning I received this news:

"We awoke to hear heavy gunfire in several areas of Jos, and saw a lot of smoke from burning buildings. The gunfire continued for several hours, and sounds like heavy artillery was being used. It is like being at a warfront.

The government has now announced that the Jos area is under 24 hour curfew, so no one can leave their house. At this point the gunfire has quieted down somewhat, but is still sporadic.

"We are receiving terrible news from the village , called Kuru Jenta, on the way to Jos Airport Evidently the village has been set on fire and the Muslims in the village, including our workers some of whom are Muslims, have been surrounded and fear they are about to be executed. We have tried unsuccessfully to reach army and police authorities in Jos. Please, if any of you in Abuja have access to any authorities who can help stop this situation we would very much appreciate it."

"According to reports, all of the Muslim houses in Kuru were burnt, and most of the Muslims were killed. Only a few are still alive. Although the person I spoke with (one of our farm staff) was naturally upset and a bit confused, he told me that he believed that except for himself, the other Muslim members of staff of the farm were all killed, along with many other inhabitants of the village.He along with his wife and children were injured but managed to escape, and at that point (this evening) he was attempting to walk through the bush to get to the Police Staff College, which he felt was the nearest place of refuge where they could be safe.

At Kuru, there was not a fight between groups, as had been the case in Jos. Muslim inhabitants were rounded up and shot or burnt in their houses. As I said, I have yet to see for myself, but I received the same report from both Muslim and Christian staff and have no reason to doubt its veracity. Only that I am not sure of the details of the exact number killed."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Roding Valley Way

Only slightly off message. During the Christmas holidays I went for a walk along the “Roding Valley Way” in East London. There has been talk of a planned footpath alongside the river Roding for years. I came across some footpath signs during the summer and assumed that the path must have been built. I was a little concerned that I couldn’t find a proper map or route on “Google” but since the walk is mostly in Tory run Redbridge Council I didn’t really expect anything less. So a few weeks ago I decided to give it a try.

I joined the “route” via Wanstead Park walking first across the flats from Forest Gate, into the park, past “The Temple” then down to the river and the metal bridge going across towards Ilford. I followed the way markers going East along the south bank of the river. The way marks soon disappeared and I had to walk through a hole in a fence near the Redbridge roundabout. Go across the roundabout to rejoin the river on the other side. Walk past some pretty vibrant concrete “Graffiti Art” then follow the river also alongside the raised and very noisy A406 dual carriageway. Keep on following Roding Valley way marks. These then appeared to peter out and there are Roding Valley Parks signs but just keep on following the right hand side of the river. Tricky bit at Chigwell Road “Refuse and Recycling centre” but there is an alleyway you can follow to the left of the entrance to the centre (no signs) and you come back to the river. Then the Roding Valley way marks suddenly reappear. Follow them then cross another footbridge over the river and keep following signs to Roding Valley Underground station (the least used station in London!) to take the train back home. Or you could keep going east along the river. The walk in total only took about 3 hours.

This is not a picture postcard “pretty” or “peaceful” traditional country walk but if you live in London you could easily go to the Chilterns or the North Downs any weekend. This urban river walk is different and very beautiful in its own way. It is always rewarding for some reason to walk along flowing water, there are also loads of different birds, plants and trees about to stop, stand and stare. You are certainly aware of our industrial heritage from Victorian water treatment plants to huge gas storage tanks.

If you do this walk you will never be able to drive along that part of the A406 or the M11 again without thinking about what lies below.

West Ham Labour Party Social

Picture from last night’s CLP “Dinner & Dance” which was held at the Vicarage Lane Community Centre in Stratford.

With our MP Lyn Brown (3rd left)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Pensions: Who on earth is looking after our money?

An employer covered by my trade union branch offers a Group Stakeholder Pension scheme with Standard Life. As "Direct Contribution" (DC) schemes go it is pretty good but employees have to join Standard Life to benefit from employer contributions. Recently a union member in this pension scheme came to me with a letter from Standard Life which worried him. This letter explained that the company had recently found out that there had been some mistakes in its marketing literature about their Sterling Fund which as not to their "usual high standards". They offered to move his money into another fund and make up any loses.

You might think “What a decent company Standard Life is for doing this, well done for owing up and doing the right thing”.

It now turns out that Standard Life has just been fined £2.45 million for misleading pensions customers “Insurance firm claimed money would be placed into low-risk fund when it was invested in toxic mortgages” The Guardian .  They were forced to pay and had actually shamefully tried to get out of paying anything beforehand.  They had to pay policy holders in the end over a £100 million in compensation!

While I hope that shareholders will paying for this compensation and the FSA fine (I am sure that the poor old policy holders will pay somehow - I also have a paid up policy with Standard Life) it does call into question who is checking up on Standard Life on behalf of policy holders. Who can not only call to account Standard Life over their marketing material but also question why on earth were they investing in toxic mortgages in a just before you actually retiresafety first fund”?

Most proper pension scheme (defined benefit or defined contributions) have member trustees to do this job. Such Group Pension or insurance schemes don’t have trustees. They can (see here) have “management committees” but they have no teeth or legal status. What we need is a requirement for trust based effective policy holder representation on all pensions’ schemes.

After all, surely we all now know what happens when you get capitalism without any owners?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Notting Hill Strike Ballot to defend family rights and basic worker protections

UNISON Housing Association Branch is gearing up to support members in Notting Hill Housing Group. UNISON members in the Group decided overwhelmingly to hold a secret ballot for strike action in response to senior management plans to attack workers family friendly agreements and basic staff protections.

An indicative ballot of members found a massive 95% in favour of strike action. Notting Hill is planning to abolish carers’ leave, get rid of flexi-time and cutting protections for staff redeployed to lower paid jobs from two years to only six months.

Senior management are now refusing to even negotiate and after 3 months of trying to talk, staff have been forced as a last resort to vote on strike action.

I think the attitude of “some” of Notting Hill senior management is just incredible and frankly silly. Getting rid of Carer’s leave will cost £30k per year. This is just macho management postulating at its very worse. They are unable to cope with being challenged and just trying to prove something for nothing.

This shows the danger of grossly inadequate checks and balances in the governance arrangements of some of our big Housing Associations whose senior managers appear to consider themselves to be some sort of new super ‘elite’ that have just lose touch with everyday reality.

Notting Hill used to be a beacon of excellence to the sector. In public housing it has an incredibly proud socially responsible history. It has now apparently decided to join “a race to the bottom” for their staff while still paying its top tier of management bundles with all the usual perks. This is not just a problem for unions but unaccountable organisations which treat their staff like rubbish will also tend to treat their residents in exactly the same manner.

It is no wonder the sector has such a bloody awful image problem and so many housing associations are so deeply distrusted and disliked (...and I am being “polite” here) by so many residents, councillors, assembly members and MPs of all political parties.

Check out this report in Inside Housing.

Picture: former Notting Hill Landlord.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

London UNISON Calendar Girls (& Boys) 2010

It’s a little bit late but I think that this may be a very useful resource for folk to download, print off and use as a calendar for the forthcoming year?

(Alternatively some poor deluded souls might just want to place on a dartboard for target practice perchance? Especially the dodgy looking geezer in black jacket top right 2nd left)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

LGPS Pension matters 2

More good stuff about the sustainability of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS and all well run Final Salary schemes) from various sources.

(Picture is of UNISON LGPS pension reps)

The current LGPS is not the cause of increases in Council Tax or cuts in local services. In fact money equivalent to less than 6% of Council Tax revenue goes towards the LGPS, about £70.50 a year for an average Council Tax paying household in England. The numbers being peddled by those opposed to quality pension provision in the UK are dangerously misleading for a debate that should be considered not a forum for shallow point scoring.

Of that contribution it is the funding owed for past service that is often the greater part. Past underfunding by employers has meant that insufficient funds have been put aside for future pensioners. However, as a funded scheme, unlike the others in the public sector, the LGPS has over £120bn in assets, a figure sufficient to pay benefits for more than 20 years without any additional contributions being made. In addition the LGPS receives £4-5bn more in income than it spends in benefits every year, ensuring its enduring viability.

Even in the current economic climate the LGPS received nearly £3bn in income from its investments in 2008-9. The scheme is a major shareholder in British businesses, property and regeneration. This is on top of the contribution it makes to the income of more than one million current pensioners many of whom would be entirely reliant on taxpayer financed state benefits if it wasn’t for the Local Government Pension Scheme.

The local government trade unions believe that the drive to the bottom approach to pension provision being led by the Conservative and Liberals will lead to millions more pensioners suffering and significantly increased pressure on public services.

Everyone should bear in mind that the scheme was reformed in 2008 with some benefit changes and increases for employees in their contributions with the Government and employers being party to the new scheme.”

Also UNISONactive quotes Labour Minister John Healey who said in May 2009 that a defined contribution scheme would result in the average pension for a local Government worker reducing from it’s current £4,000 to about £1,000. While this “Big improvement in values of funded pension schemesBBC report was for some reason not on the front page of the Torygraph or Daily Hate.

Hat-tip thingy of course to Tom P at Labour & Capital who has recently pointed out (here) that the elephant in the room over final salary pensions is longevity. In the LGPS we have now agreed to talk with employers about fluctuations in the cost of future service.  The biggest challenge is making up for inadequate contributions made in the past by employers.  If the LGPS was replaced then past liabilities will still have to be paid for - So what is the problem?

I would also add that if we got rid of LGPS you would have to replace it with something else which would have to provide a pension and this could even cost more!

That poor governance practices in the LGPS by certain Councils who have run it as a private dining club has contributed massively to poorer investment returns which has dragged down its overall results.

It is madness that there are so many “tiny” LGPS funds who all tender for, appoint and then employ individual private fund managers and individual advisors. We should rationalise the LGPS into a much smaller number of large, well resourced funds who will employ in-house fund managers who would slash costs and improve performance. The most successful big LGPS funds already do this.

The Witch-Hunter General - Trot of the Rogers has recently pinched my long running argument that the LGPS could actually be extended to all employers and employees. Arguably you don’t need a change in the admission rules since membership could be allowed to any employer who provides services that a local authority “has or could provide”. Which I understand now is pretty much everything. The self-employed (White van person) who are most concerned about their lack of provision and the “trustworthiness” of ill-health and pensions on offer could even benefit the most?

The UNISON website here makes many of the same arguments as the GMB but its “myth busters” argument also adds that “Over 50% of the cost (of the LGPS) is met by employee contributions and investment returns”.

While UNISONactive have commented on the success of UNISON in forcing the government to stop councils using LGPS money to lend to themselves at super cheap rates. This alone cost the LGPS at least £131 million last year alone.

Rant over...for now. Watch this space.  Hat-tip Tom P

Update: been pulled about about unions "agreeing" to longlevity review.  There is an agreement for possible further discussions if it becomes an issue in the future.

LGPS Pension matters 1

There has recently been a number of at best “misinformed” and at worse politically “malicious” attacks on the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). Our comrades at the GMB have here (led by their Pension maestro Naomi Cooke) fought back with their 10 key facts about the LGPS! I will post next on some other key arguments!

(picture is of lone GMB LGPS pension rep)

1. The LGPS is a funded scheme like private sector defined benefit schemes and unlike the other public sector pension schemes. Together the 101 LGPS funds hold more than £120billion in investments and assets, enough to pay benefits for over 20 years

2. The LGPS has a positive cash flow, with income from investments and contributions exceeding expenditure on benefits by £4-5billion every year

3. Members contribute an average of 6.4% to the scheme with higher earners paying proportionately more

4. The employer contribution rate for current service is 13.6%. In the private sector the comparable employer contribution average is 15.6%. Many employers are paying a high overall contribution to the scheme because of past underfunding and contribution holidays

5. The LGPS is collectively the biggest pension fund in the country and fourth largest in the world making it a major shareholder in business and the UK economy

6. Four million people are members of the LGPS in England & Wales either as active, contributing members, pensioners or deferred members

7. In April 2008 (2009 in Scotland and Northern Ireland) reformed schemes were launched covering all existing and new LGPS members that changed the benefit structure and increased average member contributions to the scheme from 5.8% to 6.4%

8. In the last year income from employee contributions to the scheme has increased by 15%

9. More than 7,000 employers participate in the LGPS, many of which are private sector companies providing local public services

10. Not gold-plated, the average pension in payment from the LGPS is around £4,000 a year, for women the average is £2,600

Hat-tip Tom P

UNISON General secretary election to be held

(20/01/10) There will be an election for the general secretary of UNISON this spring, the union's national executive council decided this morning.

The meeting voted to set the process in motion for a five-month election period, which will see nominations take place from 4 February to 1 April, with a ballot starting on 17 May and ending on 11 June, ahead of the union's national delegate conference later that month.

The result of the election will be announced on 22 June.

The NEC noted that current general secretary Dave Prentis was entitled to remain in office until May 2013, under trade union legislation, the union's rules and the contract of employment entered into at his last re-election in 2005.

However, Mr Prentis made it clear that he wished to submit himself for re-election this year, because "I have always believed that the democracy of our union is paramount" and because a new democratic mandate for the general secretary in "the difficult times we are now entering into" would help build "a strong united union capable of defending the interests of our members", which is needed now, more than ever.

In a letter to president Gerry Gallagher indicating his wish to seek re-election, Mr Prentis added that an early ballot would mean "we could then coalesce around an agenda on the issue which are so important to our members – fighting any cuts and defending our members".

The NEC agreed and adopted a timetable that will allow the election of a general secretary with a new mandate to meet the challenges of whichever new government is elected in the general election and take forward the policies decided at June's national delegate conference.

The meeting also voted to donate £10,000 to the Haiti earthquake appeal and called on branches to make donations via the TUC Aid appeal. Branches can donate online at

Hat-tip UNISON website and check out UNISONactive.  Picture of Dave and London Regional convenor Gloria Hanson at the G20 March.

Update: James NEC take

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

UNISON London Regional Council AGM 2010 - Support YOUR union - VOTE for the winning team

It is coming up to that time of the year again. The future leadership of UNISON London will be decided on 3rd Feb at the Regional Council AGM.

Gloria and her team (including me) are being challenged again by the Ultra left extremists and their supporters. It is really important that branches turn up on the day to support us.

I think that everyone knows that this year will be a tough one for us and for all our members. General and local elections, Public sector cuts, redundancies, privatisation – possible attacks on the union itself. Now more than ever we need to stand together and be united.

Gloria and her team (IMO) have been very successful in building a strong, effective union – now is not the time to risk the union falling into the hands of the Ultra left and their inexperienced hands.

So don’t take the risk, turn up and vote –

The Holiday Inn, Coram Street, WC1N 1HT, 10am 3rd February 2010.

If you haven’t registered already – contact the Regional Office on 020 7535 6612

Support YOUR union - VOTE for the winning team

Gloria Hanson – Regional Convenor

Conroy Lawrence – Deputy Regional Convenor

John Gray – Regional Finance Convenor

Lynn Bentley – Regional Publicity Officer

Monica Hirst – Regional Equalities Convenor

Emma Rolland – Regional Young Members Convenor

If anyone wants to have a chat about the elections with me they can email me their telephone number via this blog. Just click on “view my complete profile” then “contact”. I look forward to hearing from you.

Beat the BNP Day of Action - Saturday 23 January in Barking

Barking Labour Party are looking for help in the fight against the BNP in the constituency and in the borough.

Their next day of action will be on Saturday 23 January at Wood Lane Baptist Church,118 Wood Lane, Dagenham, Essex, RM9 5SL from 10am-12pm and 1pm-3pm with a hot lunch provided. Please come along if you can.

The nearest tube station is Becontree and lifts will be provided from there at 10am and 1pm.

If you are not a Labour Party supporter (for some strange reason) and you do not want to campaign with the Party check out Hope Not Hate who also have a day of action in Barking & Dagenham.

Update: I meant to post this message as well: -

Dear friend,

First of all a big thank you to everyone who came out last Saturday to help us in Barking. Despite the snow nearly fifty activists turned up to speak to voters and I think that everyone who was there will agree that there were a lot of people who were genuinely pleased to see that we had made the effort.

This face to face contact with residents really does make all the difference. Make no mistake, the BNP are campaigning in Barking and we need to be more active than ever before if we are going to beat them. We are asking that everyone who is serious about seeing off the threat from the far right make a New Years Resolution to spend one day in Barking between now and the election.

Our next day of action is Saturday 23rd January, meeting at 10am and 1pm at Becontree Train Station. We will be door knocking in the morning and afternoon with a break for a (hot!) lunch at 12.

I really do hope that you can make it. Please do forward this invitation to anyone you know who is willing to help. To make Barking your New Years Resolution, text 'BARKING 2010' to 07576 323 109.

I look forward to meeting you on the 23rd.
All good wishes
Margaret Hodge

Monday, January 18, 2010

Housing matters 18 Jan 2010

Inside Housing is making the case for public housing in the forth coming General Election. They have launched the “HOUSEPROUD” campaign.  There is a on-line petition; you can suggest a housing pledge for the main political parties; you can help publicise the campaign housing statistics (see picture); you can ask prospective MP’s about housing and get them to sign the on-line petition and send Inside Housing photos, videos, blogs, statistics etc about the value of housing in your area.  I’ve signed petition and suggested that all parties should sign up to the UNISON “Million Voices for a Million Homes” campaign.

While Roof reports that the recent freezing weather has resulted in many people being unable to afford both food and fuel. Especially the elderly. Also Christmas was paid for this year by over 100,000 of the poorest families in our community who used loan sharks to lend £29 million who charge 825% interest rates and now owe some £82 million.

The LGA show that the recession has widened the gap in the UK between the rich and poor cities.

Public Finance appear to be saying that Council and Housing association rents will converge in 2012/13 not 2020 as previously thought. Which I am not sure is necessarily good news for tenants with either landlord? Somebody is going to be a loser.

This report is a little late but the CLG report Housing Minister John Healey’s announcement of the biggest Council House building programme in nearly two decades.

Finally, I was chatting to some housing solicitors recently about the problem of rogue private landlords who do not manage their properties (full stop) and who allow their tenants (only a very small minority) to cause a bloody awful nuisance to their neighbours and who blight the local community. They suggested that if the “use of the premises is associated with significant and persistent disorder or persistent serious nuisance to members of the public” then as a last resort a “premises closure order” could be sought. Which could close the house down for 3-6 months. Which would probably sort the problem out for that house and send a message to landlords in the locality to get their act together (court costs and no rent).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Newham 10k London Run 2010

Somewhat off message but I have just signed up on-line to the 2010 Newham 10k Run which is taking place on Sunday 7 March. This morning I had a glorious run locally in the sunshine and mud and this has inspired me to take part. There are only 3000 places and you can join up for £20 here. Below is part of the blurb.

Make history. Be part of the first run in the Olympic Park and soak up the delights of Stratford Park, West Ham Park, The Greenway and Stratford town centre whilst you’re at it

10km run starting and finishing next to Stratford Park on Sunday 7 March at 10:00

For runners of all abilities age 15 & over

Closing date midnight Sunday 14 February 2010

l'll be asking for sponsorship on behalf of:-

Alone in London

Alone in London provides a wide range of help and support services to meet the needs of vulnerable young people in London who are 16 -25 and are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

Alone In London works to resolve advice and assessment services, helps with immediate housing crisis, re-establishes positive family contact where appropriate and assist young people who want to return home.

Alone in London teaches independent living skills, motivating and assisting with education, training and employment opportunities as well as supporting the transition to independence. It also works with young people leaving prison and supports them to resettle into the community, as well as providing Family Mediation services, an advocacy project and volunteering service.

For more information about the services provided by Alone In London, contact the Alone In London Young People Service Co-ordinator:

Tel: 020 7278 4224


Just click on the Justgiving link here to donate on-line.

West Ham Labour Party Dance & Fund Raising Event

Next Saturday 23 January 2010 there will be a West Ham CLP Dance and Fund Raising Event at the Vicarage Lane Community Centre, Govier Close, London E15.

The cost is £10 per ticket but this will include food and music. Drinks will be available.

Please ring Leanora for tickets (or email me).

Saturday, January 16, 2010

“UNISON, the big public service union that doesn’t have many strikes but knows how to win them”

Some recent posts on Labour movement issues that I have found interesting. The headline is from the “Despot David Cameron a stranger to the dignity of Labour” article found here by Daily Mirror reporter Paul Routeledge.

David Cameron has never had a proper job in his life, and it shows. The son of a City stockbroker, he glided effortlessly through Eton, Oxford and Conservative Central Office to become a spin doctor for a TV company”.... I reckon Cameron has in his sights Unison, the big public service union that doesn’t have many strikes but knows how to win them – like the binmen’s dispute in Leeds – and gives strong support to Labour...

Hat-tip thingy to UNISONactive for this story and for their coverage of another UNISON smart victory over the international services company Sodexo who tried to cheat hospital workers in Devon out of back pay and other contractual benefits.

I like also the post here on Socialist DisUnity (whose RSS feed is my very guilty secret – please don’t tell anyone) by Labour Party MP, Colin Burgon, who I met this year at the UNISON international conference. I have copied the information on “Cuts are not the Answer” for future use and would suggest that grown up progressives of all shapes and sizes do so as well.

Labour affiliates “Unions Together” sent me yesterday an email pointing out that “There's nothing that would make David Cameron happier than destroying your rights at work.

Just a few days ago, Cameron praised Margaret Thatcher's anti-union laws and said he would be "very happy" to go even further to stop unions protecting their members' rights. For once, I believe he's telling the truth.

If the Tories want to get elected so they can roll back our
 hard-won rights, we need to let our friends and colleagues know just what the Tories stand for. Co-sign our letter to David Cameron, 
demanding he tell us why he thinks we don't deserve the same rights at work as everyone else in Europe.

While Col Roi helpfully reports that the Torygraph had an interesting article today on “If Cameron was a supermarket he would be a Somerfield”. The author thinks Cameron should be more like “Waitrose” - that well known workers co-operative? Hmmm... can't wait for this stuff to be in Tory manifesto.

TUC Aid appeal for victims of Haiti earthquake

TUC Aid is making an appeal to affiliates, union members and to the general public for funds for emergency relief and long-term rehabilitation of the victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

You can donate on-line here or by going to

The earthquake which struck the island at 21.53 GMT on 12 January 2010 has left a trail of destruction. According to the President of Haiti, it has caused some 50,000 deaths. Massive damage has been caused to Haiti's underdeveloped, poorly maintained infrastructure and property, with most buildings including hospitals and private dwellings in the capital - Port au Prince - turned to rubble. The International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) estimates that some 3m people, most of whom have been made homeless, are in dire need of food, clothes, shelter and essential medicines. The people of Haiti, considered to be the poorest country in the western hemisphere, had been recovering from the devastation caused by hurricanes.

All cheques should be drawn in favour of TUC Aid -Haiti Earthquake Appeal and sent to TUC Aid, EUIRD, Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS. The proceeds of the Appeal will be used by the trade union movement in Haiti for emergency relief and long-term rehabilitation of victims in collaboration with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

Friday, January 15, 2010

TUC Survey on Electoral Reform

I’ve just taken part in the TUC ToUChstone on-line survey on Electoral reform. It has analysed my responses and worked out that I am in favour of the “Alternative Vote” system. Which actually is a pretty accurate refelction of my views. While I don’t think that such reform is a particular cutting edge issue amongst the general populace - I do think it is important.

I can understand other systems such as Party lists etc are in theory more “democratic” but I do worry about the lack of accountability and would always want a fairer system that still makes MP’s answerable to their “manor”.

Anyway this is what was said on the Touchstone site about my choice of “Alternative Vote”. I think it’s not perfect but it is better than "first past the post" and ticks all the other boxes IMO.

As with the current “First Past the Post system”, the country would be divided into roughly equal constituencies that elect a single MP. But under Alternative Vote (AV), voters put candidates in order of preference.

When the votes are counted, candidates’ first preferences are tallied. If one candidate has more than half the first preferences, they are elected. If not the candidate with the fewest first preferences is eliminated and their second preferences are added to the other candidates’ totals. If necessary this process is repeated until a candidate gets more than half the total vote.

This is the system operated in Australia. One strength is that people no longer need to vote tactically. They can vote for their top choice of party, but do not have to worry that it will be a wasted vote as they can continue to express other preferences. The other strength is that every MP can claim that they have at least some support from over half of those voting.

AV can make an overall election result more proportional by boosting the third party, but less proportional by benefiting the winning party at the expense of the second party. The system favours centre parties that would gain second choices from both right and left, but doesn’t help parties with a low but geographically wide level of support. So in the UK, it could favour the Liberal Democrats and disadvantage the Greens for example.

Hat-tip thingy Johninnit!

Boris the "Bungling Builder" fails to provide homes for Londoners.

London Tory Mayor Boris “Bungle” Johnson was attacked yesterday for failing to build all the new homes he had promised while also trying to claim credit for new homes that had been started under Labour. He visited a new development in Labour run Council Greenwich and had the cheek to issue a press release claiming the credit for being responsible for this development and 20,000 new homes!

Labour's housing spokesperson on the London Assembly, Nicky Gavron first biff "You almost have to admire Boris’s chutzpah in taking credit for homes he has had nothing to do with. These were started long before he was in City Hall and if he had been in charge with the policies he has you can guarantee they wouldn’t have happened."

While Housing and Planning Minister John Healey goes bash “At a time when London’s need for new affordable homes has never been higher, the truth is the Mayor wants to cut back. He has powers that no other elected politician has, but he is not using his influence to the full. London needs an ambitious Mayor with ambitious plans for affordable housing if is to be a successful global city and a fair place to live.”

... and Leader of Greenwich Council Chris Roberts goes bosh “ We are delighted that Mayor Johnson should visit a housing development in Greenwich. Planning for the development began in 2006 when Greenwich Council agreed to sell the land to a housing association. Funding was then identified from central Government and Greenwich Council granted planning permission on 18 May 2008, within days of Mayor Johnson’s election.

“It is completely disingenuous for the Mayor to now claim this development is part of his own housing strategy for London which has in fact seen the axing of the 50% affordable housing target for new homes. He has also shown clear support for Conservative councils in west and central London to reduce or eliminate social housing from developments in their boroughs.”

Boris has been heavily criticised for breaking his key election pledge of building 50,000 new homes by 2011. Even the Evening Toryard here reported that 6,500 affordable homes have been started since Boris’s election and that at the current rate he would only deliver between 13,000 and 21,000 by May 2011 – between 30 and 37,000 short of what was promised.

Check out BBC reportTory troll and the Rainbow fansite's remarkably accurate rundown about Boris... Often described as an annoying six-foot, cross dressing bear, Bungle was always so self righteous, it's amazing that Zippy didn't slap him. However, judging by the ever changing appearance of the bear, it could be assumed that successive ursine do-gooders were dragged in as replacements when things got a little too hot for their predecessors. The perpetual school sneak, Bungle was always first in the queue to blame someone else (normally the Zipmeister) when things went wrong. The Jar-Jar Binks of the Rainbow household, Bungle is probably most famous for wandering around naked by day, only to pull on a pair of blue and white striped jimjams when it was time to climb the wooden ladder to Bedfordshire.

Character Most Likely To: End up amongst the foundations of Heathrow-on-Sea (if Darius Guppy has anything to do with it)