Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy Hogmany and Blwyddyn Newydd Dda 2012

It's 2012 already in Australia (see picture). Just wishing everyone (well nearly everyone) a Happy Hogmany and a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda 2012.

In particular I'm looking foreward to getting rid of Boris in May and the London (Newham) Olympics and Paralympics :)

Friday, December 30, 2011

"Bread and Roses" Strike Centennial

Hat-tip to UNISONActive for their post on the Centennial anniversary next year of the "Bread and Roses" Textile Factory Strike in the United States.  Check out this link for the AFL-CIO site and video. YouTube clip of the Boston Workmen's Circle A Besere Velt (A Better World) Yiddish Chorus.  Which is quite apt.  The lyrics and tune is quite unforgettable and even haunting.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Health and Safety Christmas Myths

Check out the list of Christmas "myths" (or rather complete porkies and distortions) about health and safety. This "Top 10" list was  compiled by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). 

The same old (dare I say) chestnuts are here - such as children being banned from having snowball fights and carol singers being classified as a health and safety risk.  This is indeed a load of old nonsense but this has nothing to do with safety regulations.  Some organisations just use 'elf n' safety as an excuse. While many Tory politicians and their media just make things up about safety issues in order to make cheap political points.

If trivialising health and safety wasn't such a serious issue you would be amused by the attempt of the Daily Telegraph who covered the story here as some sort of attack on "health and safety killjoys" yet completely missing the point that the problem is not the safety regulations but myth making and grossly inaccurate reporting by...(amongst many others)... The Daily Telegraph.  See their coverage here of Brownies being banned from carol singing. Never mind the rubbish put out by its political stable mate the Daily Mail

Finally check out this piece of common sense written last year by IOSH Chair, Rob Strange. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Libel Reform and the Queen's Speech

Last week the Libel Reform Campaign sent out a letter calling on its supporters to contact their MP to try and make sure that libel reform is included in the next Queen's speech. Various people who have been subject to the madness that is English Libel law signed the letter including Dave Osler and my good self. Double click screen print to bring up detail.

Please click on this link and send your MP a message.

"We are writing as people who have battled libel threats and actions to ask for your help to make sure reform of the laws gets into next year's Queen's Speech, which sets the legislative agenda for 2012.

People are still being threatened by a law that allows the rich and powerful to bully critics and shut down public debate. Libel reform needs urgent action. The campaign and all its supporters have worked hard to persuade the Ministry of Justice to draw up an effective defamation bill, but if it is not in the Queen's Speech in the spring, then libel reform will be delayed for at least another year, which will be a victory for those who want to silence honest criticism. We can't bear to let this opportunity slip away.

We know we will have to battle against those who want to delay or derail libel reform, and the best way to get our message across is to lobby MPs for support. Please help us by filling in the form to the right to send an email to your MP so they know that all we want for Christmas is the inclusion of libel reform in the Queen's Speech".

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"Can pension funds shape the future of capitalism?"

Catching up on things. Last month I went straight from the TUC Trustee Pension Conference to the Fair Pension's Guest Lecture at the House of Commons. This was the second presentation I had been to that day on "Capitalism and pensions". I was with a notoriously quiet and reserved UNISON colleague who is a Local Government Pension (LGPS) expert. The lecture was given by Professor Keith Ambachtsheer, Director of the Rotman Institute for Pension Management (left of picture).

He was introduced by John Cruddas MP who is the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Committee for Responsible Investment. The meeting was Chaired by Catherine Howarth of Fair Pensions.

You can read an account of his speech (and that of Mark Fawcett, Chief Investment Officer at NEST - right of picture) and the full text here. My take on Ambachtsheer is that he believes that Capitalism must be transformed by those who invest in pensions acting as active owners and demanding that capitalism is transformed into a sustainable and wealth creating model. Rather than mainly benefiting "agents" and being subject to their whims.

What I also found striking in his speech was that the traditional argument over pensions about which is best: Defined Benefit or Defined Contribution? Is the wrong question to ask. Instead you should be more concerned with Scale (size of fund), Governance, Investment belief and Fees.  I asked a question about the Local Government Pensions Scheme (LGPS) which has around £140 billion in assets but is split into 101 different funds. Ambachtsheer thought this was just completely wrong to have so many small funds.

Afterwards we went to the St Stephens Tavern where we had some very "interesting" conversations about the future of the LGPS from across the political divide.

Christmas Day Walk 2011: Wanstead Flats and Wanstead Park

Off message but it's Christmas! Panorama picture overlooking Ornamental Waters, Wanstead Park from bottom of "The Long Walk". This tree on the left has been leaning towards the lake for as long as I can remember.  I've posted some more pics from this walk on Facebook here.

Monday, December 26, 2011

London Marathon Training 2012 Wk 9: Leyton Flats and Eagle Pond.

Training went “okay” (except there were two  sprint interval training sessions!) and there was the extra benefit of being able to run off all the Xmas Party hangovers.

Except I’m a little worried about my Achilles tendon in my left foot which is giving me a bit of gip. I’ve had a problem with this for the last couple of years which I had hoped was sorted.
I’ve got a stretching programme from a Physio and have just ordered a “wobble board”. Fingers crossed.

Long run of the week was for 75 minutes on Christmas Eve. After surviving the madness of the last minute food shop at Waitrose. I started off across Wanstead flats, then thru Bush Wood and into Leyton Flats. Past the Sir Alfred Hitchcock Hotel (he was born in Leytonstone - good bar but hit and miss food) and around Hollow Pond. Back past Eagle Pond and Snaresbrook Crown Court (Picture of Court and pond via BB ).

Back past Eagle Inn (18th Coaching Inn and apparently a watering hole of Winston Churchill when he was MP for Wanstead. Now a pretty naff Toby Carvery). Then thru Wanstead and then St Marys Church and the shelter that was used by a guard in the 1830’s to protect fresh graves in the churchyard from body snatchers. Then via the cricket ground and thru the empty golf course into Wanstead Park then Wanstead Flats then home (to collapse).

I am running the London marathon next year using the official advanced training programme and will be raising funds for Homeless Youth charity "Alone in London". Click here to sponsor me.

Update: I've posted some more pics from run on Facebook here

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas Carol 2011

This is a modern day “A Christmas Carol” tale. Christmas this year must be looking pretty bleak for the 1000 carers and their families employed by Family Mosaic Housing Association. Their employer is trying to cut their wages by up to 35% in some cases. According to their own figures 242 carers will lose up to £2000 pa; 58 between £2000 and £4000 and 107 over £4000 pa.

Many of these carers are already relatively poorly paid. They work with the mentally ill and other vulnerable adults doing a demanding job that they love but which most people would run a mile away from doing themselves. A large number are single mums who rely on working weekends and shifts' allowances in order to raise their wages to a decent level to look after their kids.

While it seems that the Senior Management team at Family Mosaic are not going to suffer any cut in their pay: 25 of whom earn over £60,000 pa, while 4 earn over £100,000 a year. Its Chief Executive, Brendan Sarfield, on £172,000 pa is also safe. Family Mosaic made a surplus of £34 million pounds last year.

Yesterday morning in my Councillor’s post I received a glossy magazine (Winter 2011) from Family Mosaic wishing me “A very Happy Christmas and New Year”. There was also a letter from the CEO saying how wonderful his organisation is doing. In the magazine there was no mention whatsoever about the cuts to carers' pay and conditions. Nor that staff are balloting for strike action. With no apparent sense of irony, Mr Sarfield in an editorial criticised others for not facing up to “Challenging” issues!

Is it not too late for the modern day equivalent of Jacob Marley to pay a visit to Mr Sarfield to remind him about the real meaning of Christmas? Or will he continue to say to his staff facing desperate financial straits "I'm alright Jack" and “Bah, Humbug!”.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Virgin Scumbag Brand: My New Year's Resolution 2012

I have finally had it with Branson and the Virgin brand. Check out the Left Foot Forward exposure of Richard Branson the Union buster.  
He fronts a video to Virgin America Airline staff telling them not to vote to recognise a trade union.
Trade Union recognition is a basic human right and any decent employer should welcome unions with open arms.

I’ve moaned on this blog about the rubbish customer service I have received from Virgin Media but I have been too disorganised to do much about it. Now enough is enough. 

I will change my TV and Broadband supplier as soon as I can and will never use Virgin holidays or finance ever again. I will also display some suitable message while running the London Marathon next year but I would recommend that everyone leaves and boycotts any service associated with this completely vile individual.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Labour, Trade unions, SPGB, the Anarchist President, Bill, Dave and John

Last month I took part in a debate organised by the Socialist Party (Great Britain) on "Should trade unionists support the Labour Party?" They did record the event and I was hoping to link to it, but it seems that there was some technical problem. Which was a shame since I thought it was actually quite a good debate.  Bill Martin from the SPGB (a UNISON activist) spoke against the motion.  He also chaired the meeting and was at all times polite and courteous. 

There was of course a completely wide gulf between us. The SPGB is a Marxist, anti-capitalist, revolutionary Party.  Readers of this blog might possibly have noticed that I am not. They are also "anti-Leninist" and "anti-Stalinist" and were completely dismissive of various Trotsky newspaper sellers (I make no comment). There was only 15 people present (including the anarchist President of the NUJ)

I argued that "my kind of socialism is one politically based on parliamentary democracy, and economically, a true mixed and balanced economy of publicly owned services, mutually and privately owned enterprises, all properly regulated, subject to democrat scrutiny, the law and a truly progressive tax system. While socially a successful Socialist Society must be one that is equal and free. Open, tolerant, and most importantly, supportive of dissenting views".

I mentioned my family background and The Spirit Level. In my view trade unionists should not only support the Labour Party, but take an active part in the Party arguing within for change. Bill made a number of points about the role and nature of trade unions and the argument that it is better for unions to be aliened to no particular political party.

I had a top Labour ringer with me, Dave Draycott.  Dave is the Unite Branch secretary for Leeds City and also a Labour Party Councillor in Calderdale.  It was the first time Dave and I had ever met up in person (rather via email or social media). In the Q&A that followed he made (in my view) a number of forceful and well made points. In particular the need for a true plurality in any socialist society to prevent the inevitable tendency to oppression, that you get in any society where any single political or economic belief is dominant.

Afterword we all went to the local pub and continued the debate. The SPGB have some interesting characters. One very forthright and vocal SPGB member had been brought up in a London working class family who "worshipped Mosley".  Another, use to be the secretary to the National Coal Board Pension scheme.  With my pension governance hat on we had an interesting conversation about "Arthur" and  Cowan v Scargill. He had also enjoyed hugely this post.

Update: Bill (aka Deathy) has let me know that he is sure that the vocal recording of the debate did work and he will chase it being posted on their website.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

CIH Presidental Elections 2012

I've been an (inactive) member of the Chartered Institute of Housing for nearly 20 years and I don't recall there ever being an election for the top jobs?

This year there will be an election for the CIH Vice President between Jan Taranczuk and Paul Tennant. Under the CIH rules whoever is elected will become the President of the CIH in 2013.

I don't think I have ever met Paul who is the CEO of Orbit Housing Association (one of the biggest).  However, Jan use to be a senior Housing Manager in Tower Hamlets and his wife Kathy was my line manager in Bow for many years.  I've never worked with Jan but one thing that did impress me was that he was one of the very few senior social housing managers who still lived on an inner city Council Estate.  They did move out eventually to Kent to be near to family. Jan also runs the Housingstories website.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Jon's Union blog: 0 false false false

Jon's Union blog: "...0 false false false..." This is a screen print from the TIGMOO website tonight. Double click to bring up details.

I'm sure that there is some perfectly innocent explanation for this simply outrageous smear on the integrity of our dear sarf London coastal leader.


Fidelity: the big bad wolf?

I haven't had a pop at Fidelity Fund managers for a while. So being Christmas and all that...I thought it was about time I had a go at one of the biggest single political donors to the Conservative Party.

Now, Fidelity is a private company and if they want to give money to the Tories then fair enough. But what isn’t on is that they don’t disclose this to the clients. Not only do they not disclose it but they vote in other Companies AGM’s to give even more money to the Tories. Again without properly disclosing it. They also give money to pro-tory policy organisations, again, without properly disclosing it. Anyway, this is an email I sent this evening to the Financial Reporting Council (FRC).
I’ll let you know what happens.

“Dear Baroness Hogg
I wish to bring to the attention of the Financial Reporting Council my concern that fund managers Fidelity (FIL) don’t disclose their political donations to the Conservative Party as a conflict of interest under the “conflicts section” of their stewardship code statement here:

They make significant political donations to one UK political party (£400,000 to the Conservative Party in the last three years) yet also get to vote on resolutions seeking authority to make political donations, and in practice they have voted in favour of at least one company (Caledonia Investments) seeking to make donations to the same party. They also funded the 2011 anti-AV campaign, despite the fact that they are employed by some funds where the beneficiaries may have a different view (i.e. a majority of voters in Camden were pro AV in the referendum yet the Camden Council LGPS fund employs FIL).

I believe that Fidelity should at least disclose these donations, and the possible conflict with client views/interests, in its Stewardship Code statement. I would be grateful of your view of this matter. Yours sincerely"

Update on Pensions

Following recent developments over Public Service pensions I thought I would give my take on things. There has been lot of excited and largely ill-informed postulating.

On Friday the main local government unions UNISON, Unite and the GMB agreed "a joint statement on discussions on a new set of principles and timetable for detailed negotiations on pensions....if agreed, the unions believe they "lay a positive framework" for full negotiations to start in January....The statement stresses that no decisions have been taken over details surrounding contribution increases or the future look of the local government pension scheme".  The Government was willing to proceed on this basis.  However it seems that Eric Pickles MP has been doing his best to wreck a deal.  It appears that his silly letter has now been withdrawn.

Yesterday UNISON health negotiators received a final offer from the employers which they quite rightly intend to consult upon with the Health Service Group elected lay Representatives.

Other unions (with the one exception of the main Civil Service union PCS) appear to be close to an "outline deal".

No-one cannot seriously argue that there hasn't been significant changes and improvements to schemes since the decision was taken to ballot for strike action. Also as the TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said : "Since the day of action on November 30, we've seen a new atmosphere in the negotiations".

I think that some commentators are in danger of cutting their nose to spite their face.  They also clearly do not understand that it is not and never has been (and never will IMO) the role of British trade unions to take action against the wishes and interests of its members.  We are interested in resolving trade disputes and not engaging in infantile and doomed toy town revolutionary politics. While I am very proud of the work that my union does to change society and promote a progressive agenda.  We put the interests of our members first and not what are told to believe by extremist central committees.

By coincidence yesterday evening I was at Congress House in London for a UNISON Regional Council Officer meeting.  There was also a meeting of the TUC Public Services Liaison Group to discuss the negotiations. Outside the main entrance was about 25 protesters (see picture) calling for a National Strike (and various other things).  I went outside to see what was going on and had even had a chat with my former branch chair. I must admit that I did wonder why these tiny number of protesters thought that they had the right to "demand" that 6 million TUC members do as they tell them?

The elected lay Representatives of the Union will decide what to do next. Ordinary trade union members will have the final say about whether these changes are sufficient to settle this dispute. They will vote in a secret ballot either: Yes or No.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Big Bad Mikey sings Goodbye-ee

(Warning: this is an internal Newham thing) Big Bad Mikey who posted as "I love Newham Labour Group" (or something like that) sings "Goodbye-ee to blogging" alongside his old partner in crime Newham Tory miniture

They will be sadly missed. How can we now show how completely useless the Tory opposition is in Newham?

I am of course, as always, a completely innocent man in all this.

UPDATE: within a few hours of this post "Big Bad Mikey" decided to change his mind (no surprise there) and reopen his blog! Hooray - we can now continue to demonstrate how completely useless all the opposition (trots and tories) are in Newham.  He claims that he is a reformed character and will not swear or attack people personally.

Yeah...he's already pretending to be the very thick and stupid illiterate anon who makes obscene comments.  Great stuff. Carry on "Big Bad Mikey" Please don't ever change! 

(I'll be thinking of a suitable "welcome back" post for the near future:)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

London Marathon 2012 Training Wk 8: West Ham Ward

I pulled a muscle in my back last week so was a bit tender but managed to keep to the training programme. While out running I was shocked to see that there had been a serious fire in the tower block Fred Wigg House, which overlooks Wanstead Flats. Thankfully no-one was hurt, but as a housing bod, I shudder every time I look at the damage (not picture above). 

I finally took back the useless "Ironman" running watch to Sweatshop and got my money refunded. The sales assistant was very good and almost sold me a £249 all singing, all dancing GPS, heart monitor, "Motoactv" Walkman. Luckily I managed to keep my sanity and escape.  By co-incidence I have managed to work out how to download music to my Blackberry and was amazed at the sound quality.  I'm trying to see if there is a decent running "apt" I can download.

Run of the week was on Saturday. After my Council Sugary in the Community Centre, Rokeby Street, E15 (taken up with repairs and OAP internal decs) I went home but ran back to the ward for my 75 minute long run of the week.  I did a circuit of the ward.  Not really a good idea since I kept stopping to check things out and take photos of a few problems and issues.  There was a small fly-tip at the green lawn roundabout in Marriott Road.  This roundabout was the site of the bomb crater caused by this:-

"In the early hours of 1st February 1945 at 3:03 am, Hitler’s last weapon of terror, a V-2 Rocket, left a trail of death and destruction on the sleeping street. An unmanned, guided, ballistic missile that had a maximum speed of 3440 mph, flying at an altitude of 52-60 miles, and carrying a warhead of 2150lbs of high explosives dropped without warning onto the sleeping Barnby Street, at up to four times the speed of sound. The ultra-high-speed descent meant that no sound was heard by those about to be hit. The effects of the resulting explosion were catastrophic, the explosion and subsequent sonic boom were heard all over London.

On that cold winters night, in just a few short seconds 29 people lost their lives and 15 others were seriously injured. Houses were totally destroyed and the surrounding streets were severely bomb blasted"

Check out Newham Stories.  Barnby Street (now Marriott Road) had already suffered damage from 7 previous German air raid bombings.  Newham alone suffered 40 V2 ballistic missile attacks in 1944 and 1945. The picture above was taken only a few hours after the attack. I will speak to my ward fellow ward Councillors Ron and Freda about getting some sort of memorial on this spot.

On the way back I went around Stratford Park and said a brief "hello" to one of my fellow school governors in Aileen Walk .

When I got home I felt okay and even a little smug that I had no aches and pains.  "I'm getting really fit" I thought.  Then despite stretches and resting I began to slowly stiffen up, limp and suffer.....Only another 4 months of this to go!

(I am running the London marathon next year using the official advanced training programme and will be raising funds for Homeless Youth charity "Alone in London". Click here to sponsor me).

Occupy St Pauls (1887 style)

Hat tip to Hayes People History post on an early anti-capitalist protest and "occupation" at St Pauls Cathedral by the Social Democratic Federation on 27 February 1887.

"In 1886 and 1887 the Social Democratic Federation conducted a broad campaign of agitation among London's unemployed. The church parades were a form of this agitation, practised in early 1887. It was an attempt to address the unemployed from the pulpit. One parade, on 27 February 1887, took place in front of St Paul's Cathedral. During the sermon, parade participants proclaimed socialist slogans. After the service the Social Democratic Federation held three meetings in the streets, the speakers including John Burns, George Bateman and Fielding".

However, just like today's "Occupy Movement" there was some controversy and dare I say "splitting". A certain Friedrich Engels attacked the protest in a letter on 10 March 1887 "Over here the unemployed agitation by the Social Democratic Federation has also proved to be a complete flop; the church parade in St Paul's was a silly attempt to ape the Chartists and was likewise a flop, in short nothing has happened yet. Next autumn things may get better; It would be desirable if, in the meanwhile, the rascals at the head of the Social Democratic Federation were to fade away and disappear".

Saturday, December 17, 2011

TUC Trustee Conference 2011: Saving Capitalism

The presentation was actually called "How funds can benefit from dysfunctional markets - and help save capitalism".  You might enjoy the irony of someone speaking at a  TUC event about saving capitalism - but I couldn't possibly comment.

The speaker Dr Paul Woolley is an interesting bloke. A former stockbroker, fund manager and economist at the IMF. He is now a Senior Fellow at the LSE and set up his own research team there on "Dysfunctional markets". I believe he has funded this on the large amounts of money he made as a fund manager. 

He argues (convincingly in my view) that there needs to be a Revolution to save Capitalism. There are too many "bubbles and crashes" which ends up with fund managers being more wealthy than investors. Vast profits are made by the financial sector and not by shareholders. There is not mild inefficiencies but fundamental problems. Woolley talks about "Principles and Agents". Pension funds and shareholders (Principles) are basically ripped off by our financial services (Agents) who capture "excess profits". Fund managers are paid whether or not they do well. This is a moral hazard and results in bloated... short term-ism and instability. Regulation will not work since the Government is in hock to the financial sector. It is down to us (pension fund trustees and the like) to stop the abuse of our capital. We need to incentivise the UK industrial sector and shrink the financial. Say No to performance fees and No to any alternative investments which rarely delivering superior returns and can be cons. We need total transparency, full disclosure and the monitoring of all charges. Unless this happens it will mean the end of market capitalism. 

In the Q&A I asked him a question that since it would appear that many financial service interests are against us, whether it would be best for large funds such as the Local Government Pension scheme to employ directly their own advisers and fund managers (Australian model)? Paul was broadly supportive. He later finished by telling us that many of the current free market theories are "duds" and future generations will think we are off our rockers for believing in them

After the TUC Pension conference I went to a Guest lecture at the House of Commons organised by Fair Pensions by Keith Ambachsteer called "Can Pension Funds Shape the Future of Capitalism? Yes, we can!" Which I will post upon another day.

I also heard Paul speak at the LAPFF conference last month in a presentation called "What Pension Funds should do now" and make similar hard hitting arguments. Since then I have heard the ABI and others make similar arguments about us Principals being ripped off by Agents. I have brought up the issue at two different pension fund trustee meetings. This whole important debate (I sincerely hope) may finally have legs.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pay up to £1750 fee to take your employer to court: A Bullies' Charter

The Tory led coalition are planning to charge workers up £1750 to take their employer to an employment tribunal.  Never mind the cost of hiring a solicitor or barrister to represent you.  Remember you cannot get legal aid for employment cases and that you cannot claim your legal costs even if you win.  If you lose and want to appeal then you will have to pay another £1600 (£400 issue fee and £1200 hearing fee) as well as your legal costs.

Soon if you start a new job you will have to wait for two years to be protected from unfair dismissal no matter how rotten you have been treated. Health and safety protections at work are also under threat as well as many of the so called gold plated European employment protections.  

The Tories are also talking about introducing the legal right to sack any worker without even giving a reason.  

Since only 18% of ET claims were successful at a full hearing in 2005/2006 and the median award for unfair dismissal was only £4,228 what this means is that most people will not take out a claim since it will not be worth it no matter how awful they have been treated at work. This is a charter for bullying management. The only hope workers have are the trade unions.  We need to make sure that we are up to this challenge.

I blame this Tory led Coalition for everything that is happening but I also remember those in May last year who claimed that there is no difference between Labour and the Tories.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Jessie Jackson 70th Birthday Party in UNISON HQ

Last night UNISON hosted a 70th Birthday Party in honour of Rev Jessie Jackson at the UNISON Centre in Euston, London. Our President Eleanor Smith introduced Rev Jackson and Keith Vas MP. Labour Leader Ed Miliband was the keynote speaker.  This fantastic song was sung live by the Rev Jackson's daughter Santita. In the video background are my fellow London UNISON Regional Council colleagues Gloria, Monica and Conroy (and a few other UNISON faces).

Update: if you have trouble opening video check youtube

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Council Speech on Income Inequality (and some other stuff)

This is my speech on Monday evening at the Newham Council meeting. "Chair, Council, John Gray, West Ham Ward, speaking tonight on my personal views, about why greater income equality is better for everyone in our society and the evidence from the Book “The Spirit Level” to back up this assertion.

While I am sure that all of us in this chamber share a belief in progressive politics, in making our borough and our country a more equal and more just society, often we cannot agree on the way to build Jerusalem, in our green & pleasant Newham. We would all like to see greater income equality, especially for those living in poverty but we need to have a wider understanding on the causes and impact of poverty before we decide how best to tackle it.

A major problem for those who see themselves on the Left of politics is that that many think that socialism generally was discredited by the failure of Marxist states such as the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Not only their economic failure but also by the repression and the loss of personal freedoms.

Although the Labour Party itself has always been shaped more by Methodism than Marx, in my view and others, the Left has indeed lost its way and it has also been losing the all important Battle of Ideas to the Right.

This retreat by the Left and the resulting rise of the Neo-liberal Right was the main reason for the disastrous Financial services and Banking collapse in 2008. Which we are still paying the price for today and for the foreseeable future. 

However it is no use for the Left just simply wanting or wishing an alternative economy. It must be based on rigorous economic and empirical research. If the old socialist certainties of nationalisation and control of the means of production, distribution and exchange are no longer - what can take its place? 

The book "The Spirit Level" is I believe an important contribution to a new research based economic alterative. It was written by respected academics Professor Richard Wilkinson and Professor Kate Pickett and was first published in 2009 and an updated version in November 2010. They examined 30 years of national and international research. It is not a “theory of everything” which they are sometimes accused.

What this research found was that there was a clear statistical link in the developed countries of the world between income inequality, health and social problems. The smaller the gap between rich and poor, the more successful society was in terms of health and social problems. Based on this research, if the UK reduced the levels of inequality in our country, we could find increase in life expectancy, decrease in infant mortality; reduced crime (including murder), less mental illness and ill-health, less drug abuse and better educational attainment for our children. 

To me one of the great ironies coming out of the research was that they found that not only was greater income equality better for the poor, but it was also better for the rich to live in a more equal society. The health and social benefits of the rich as well as the poor improve. 

Once you identify the more equal and more successful societies you can then examine what you can do to change our society and make it more equal and more successful for all.  There are two main ways of reducing income inequality:-

1. Smaller differences in pay between the top and bottom earners before tax (like in Japan)

2. Redistribution through taxes and benefits from richer to the poor (like in Sweden)

I won’t go into the remedies since this is a topic in itself but it does seem to me that politically the pay of top executives in the private and the public sector is in the news and being discussed while the idea that we should actively redistribute by higher taxes and benefits is not currently on the agenda. Yet I think that there must be a combination of restraint at the top and support for the vulnerable at the bottom. 

The Right have of course attacked the Spirit Level research because they say it interferes “in the Market”, and that the “Market knows best”. As 2008 showed us, the market is not always right, it does need at times, regulating and moderating in the interests of a better society. A society which again, I stress benefits everyone, the rich and the poor. So let us go on now to win the Battle of Ideas. The Banking crisis for the Right should be the equivalent of the fall of the Soviet Union to the Left. Let us create a new society, a New Jerusalem based on statistical evidence of what works and what doesn’t, not the outdated dogma or wishful thinking of the past. Thank you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Family Mosaic UNISON members vote for Strike Ballot

"UNISON members at Family Mosaic Housing Association have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a formal ballot for strike action. The consultative ballot result comes shortly after Family Mosaic’s senior management issued letters of dismissal to all staff members who have not signed new contracts agreeing to substantial cuts in pay and an increase in working hours. 

To date Family Mosaic have refused to revise their current drastic proposals and have shown little regard for the significant impact the proposed pay reductions will have on staff members and their families.

London UNISON Regional Organiser, Colin Inniss stated: ‘The pain of these pay cuts and increased working hours will only be experienced by front line staff, senior management have exempted themselves and protected their pay from any reductions. All care and support and general housing staff will be contemplating a difficult 2012; whilst for senior management it will be a case of business at usual, a point which highlights the opportunistic nature of their proposals. This is something which should worry Family Mosaic’s service users. Imposing harsh changes demoralises a workforce and cannot but affect the quality of service delivery. Whilst UNISON remains committed to achieving negotiated change, management’s intransigence has left us with no alternatives other than to conduct a formal ballot for strike action and to pursue legal action.’

The ballot will involve all UNISON members employed by Family Mosaic in both London and Essex.

For Further information or comment please contact: UNISON Regional Organiser, Colin Inniss on 07703 194 127 /
Notes for Editors
1. UNISON’s represents over 60,000 members in the Community and Voluntary sector.
2. Family Mosaic own and manage 23,000 properties across, 27 London Boroughs and in Essex. It has a significant Supported Housing business providing nursing, care and support services to around 4,000 people.
3. Family Mosaic’s operating surplus rose from 19% in 2009/10 to 26% in 2010/11. The Group’s net surplus increase to £34 million in 2010/11, a rise of 4% on the previous year.
4. In July 2011, Family Mosaic finalised the purchase of Hyde Housing’s £14 million-turnover subsidiary, In Touch, which provides services to 4,200 people and includes 120 contracts.
5. In 2010/11, Family Mosaic’s Chief Executive, Brendan Sarsfield’s, annual salary increased from £165,000 to £172,000".

Monday, December 12, 2011

London Marathon 2012 Training Wk 7: Wanstead Park

Due to winter darkness I've found it difficult to keep to the training programme during week days.  I don't like running in the dark because of the risk of tripping up. But you have little choice at this time of the year. Roll on winter solstice which will be on the 22nd of December. Not long now to go.

Run of the week was on Saturday. After my Council surgery I went for a 70 minute Fartlek (Swedish for "speed play" - a form of interval training) in glorious sunshine and blue skies. Starting across Wanstead Flats and into Wanstead Park via Park Road. I basically did two circuits of the Park (including one sprint up the Long Walk which I was pleased about) then back home in between the railway and the City of London Cemetery. Sore legs and in some pain for rest of day!

It is amazing nowadays that this park use to be part of a massive Country estate. A contemporary rival to Blenheim Palace no less. In 1805 the state was passed to a "Catherine Tylney-Long, who thereby became the richest heiress in England". In 1812 she made a disastrous choice of marriage to a William Wellesley-Pole (nephew of the Duke of Wellington).  Who due to his "dissipation and extravagance" caused family bankruptcy and the Country House to be demolished in 1825.

Picture is of the the approach to the Temple which was an estate building dating from the 18th Century, which now houses a museum collection open to the public during weekends. (double click to bring up detail. Picture from December 2010. Note snow!)

I am running the London marathon next year using the official advanced training programme and will be raising funds for Homeless Youth charity "Alone in London". Click here to sponsor me. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Daily Mail "clarifications & corrections"

So, so true...The Daily Mail is completely and utterly vile and hateful.  (double click on scan to bring up detail). Hat tip thingy Rupa.

TUC Trustee Conference 2011: Auto enrolement

Catch up from last month's TUC Pension Trustee conference "People & Profits".  I went to a useful workshop by the Pensions Regulator on "Auto-enrolment and workplace pensions reform - the role of trustees".

I don't think (in fact I am pretty certain) that many people realise that in a year or so, if they are not in a pension scheme, they will be compulsory enrolled into one. Employees, employers and the government will have to make minimum payments. Employees will have a month to come out. However, many think that due to inertia they will not "opt" out. This is good news on a number of levels. Currently 2/3rd of private sector employees receive no pension contribution whatsoever from their employers. While 50% of workers in the private sector have no pension provision at all. These workers face desperate poverty in their old age and taxpayers will have to pick up the bill for basic social security.

It's not all good news.  The contribution levels are very, very low. 3% employer, 4% employees and 1% tax relief. 8% of your income in pension contributions is no where near enough to get a decent pension.  The old pension adage use to be you that to get a pension of half pay and a lump sum you needed to have the equivalent of 20% of your income invested for 40 years. There are also a number of exemptions. But it is a start. 

There is also a legitimate fear that employers who currently pay more into pension schemes might level down.  Some people opposed the introduction of the national minimum wage for the same reason that it would depress wage rates but this didn't happen. I am more worried that employers who currently only have say 50% of employees in their scheme may cut back on contributions because the total bill will rise if 75% are now in (or introduce a two tier pension scheme for existing and new scheme members).  The Unions need to be wide awake about this risk. 

I also spoke at a recent UNISON Community Service Group Executive meeting and at last week's NEC about the organising opportunity that Auto-enrolment gives us.  The unions must be at the centre of all what is going on.  The greater the density and the organisation we can achieve - the better the final pension deal.

Of course for the public service pensions schemes, if members have to pay 50% more in  contributions (nearly 10% of their income) after years of pay cuts, as well as retire much later and get less, then existing members, never mind the new ones will simply walk.  They will leave the scheme in droves and the schemes will become unsubstainable and collapse. The Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) will turn from being cash positive to cash negative in a few years and all Council finances could be completely and utterly shot to pieces.

Roman Road: Bad and Good

The Bad: Off message but on Friday I was walking along Roman Road, E3 when a woman came out of one of the "shops" and threw two large white takeaway polystyrene cups into the gutter. She then turned around and
went back into the shop again. I was astonished.

I opened the door of the shop and asked the women (who was behind the counter) if she is going to clear the cups? She replied no, she pays plenty of money for street cleaners to clean up and that is what they are there for. I told her that I had taken a picture of the rubbish on my phone and that if she did not clear it up I would report her for littering to Tower Hamlets Council.

To which she urged me to go forth and pass water (or something like that). I said it was her choice and walked away. Not that it made any difference but there was no road sweepers anywhere insight. About 30 minutes later I walked past the shop and it appeared that the cups had been cleared away. 

The Good: By coincidence that night I had a very pleasant crimbo drink and meal with 3 old friends (we all use to be UNISON housing stewards in Tower Hamlets Council) in Roman Road . We had drinks in the Angel and Crown where the pub staff and regulars couldn't have been more friendly followed by an excellent meal at Meze & Barbeque restaurant (see photo).

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Record inequality between rich and poor

Hat tip Equality Trust  The OECD says rising inequality is not inevitable.  Progressive taxes and making sure that people are in well paid jobs is essential. 

Friday, December 09, 2011

UNISON NEC meeting 8 Dec 11

Yesterday there was a UNISON NEC meeting on the 9th floor of the new UNISON centre in Euston, London.
I am a national member for  the Community Service Group (Housing associations and voluntary organisations) with my colleague from Manchester City branch, Isobel McVicar.
Obviously the Pension Strike and what to do next was a major item.  It was largely a positive and constructive meeting.  Some of the usual suspects were being a little silly but the vast majority of the NEC made intelligent and considered arguments and contributions.

Check out  the UNISON statement on the NEC here starting "We will hope for the best, but plan for the worst," UNISON's ruling NEC declared today as it assessed the effect of the 30 November pensions strike....The day of action was "an absolutely fantastic day, the proudest day of my union life," general secretary Dave Prentis told the meeting in London.....

While the blog UNISONactive reports also on the NEC meeting as well as on the Strike today over private sector pensions in Unilever, on which the NEC sent a message of support yesterday. (picture is actually after NEC Policy Committee meeting on Wednesday)

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Help Seema Malhotra be the next Labour & Co-op MP for Feltham & Heston

Dear friend, I have been a member of the Co-operative Party for almost ten years and I’m proud to be standing to be the Labour & Co-operative Member of Parliament for Feltham & Heston, the area where I grew up.

Labour Party members selected me last weekend to be their candidate in the by-election on 15 December. It would be an honour to follow the work of Alan Keen, one of the first MPs I ever knew, who sadly passed away earlier this month and gave many years of service to Hounslow, to the Labour and co-operative movements and the world of sport.

[ Read the tribute to Alan Keen by Martin O’Donovan, Director of the Parliamentary Labour Party ]

But to win I need your help.

Make no mistake, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will be targeting this seat hard. Vince Cable will be wanting to shore up his political future after boundary changes and Boris Johnson will be looking to boost his mayoral campaign with the last test of Londoners’ opinion before May’s elections.

For Feltham & Heston to continue to have a Labour & Co-operative Member of Parliament we need Co-operative Party members to support us – on the doorstep and on the phone.

The Co-operative Party will be holding a campaign weekend on 10/11 December from 11am each day – join the team at Feltham railway station on Saturday and Sunday. Or come along to the by-election phonebank at Co-operative Party HQ, 77 Weston St SE1 3SD from 6pm on the 6th and 13th of December to help us speak to local residents.

You can also help my campaign at any time by coming along to the campaign centre at Feltham Labour Hall, Manor Place TW14 9BT. Email with your contact details today to or call the volunteer hotline on 07872 417252. You can follow me on Twitter at @SeemaMalhotra1.

Yours in co-operation,


UPDATE: Seema Wins with an increased Labour Majority.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Tower Hamlets Local History Newsletter

I've signed up to receive a regular free newsletter from the Local History Library and Archive team.  The picture is from a painting of Hessell Street by the Artist Noel Gibson.

I was surprised to find out that there has been a DVD made called "14th Floor: the history of social housing in Tower Hamlets". Which you can buy for £5.  There will be a showing of the DVD in the new year. I wonder if it will cover the areas that I have worked in as a housing officer?

You can download the newsletter and sign up for future ones here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

SERTUC Health & Safety Seminar 2011

This seminar in Congress House had Hugh Robertson (TUC) and Judith Hackitt (HSE) speaking and was chaired by SERTUC regional
secretary, Megan Dobney (right of picture).

Hugh made the case that under this government, the cuts to the HSE and getting rid of essential safety enforcement and regulations, will lower standards and result in more work related accidents and illnesses.

In the Q&A that followed I said that things are very depressing but trying to make a small positive out of a huge negative - the best safety protection at work comes from trade union organisation. Many workers currently have completely unrealistic expectations of their legal rights and safeguards. We have to tell them that they will have even less rights in the future. So to protect themselves at work they must join a union and the union must recruit and organise the workforce to make things safe.

Judith accepted that there was unprecedented change but that the cuts do not have to mean that people will be less safe. The HSE is going to try and cut the backroom not the front line. Reviews can be a good thing. The aim is to remove unnecessary bureaucracy not protection. 

In the Q&A there was some "heated" comments which as usual Judith took on the chin and batted straight back. Megan had to remind people that they were "entitled to make forceful statements but must remember to remain on the right side of civility" (a wonderful Chair's intervention which I will steal). Judith did speak out against low fines for criminal breaches of safety laws. She would rather that there was much higher fines but that is the job of the Courts. She thought it was a disgrace that the death of a member of the public was worth more than a worker. She ended by saying the HSE were "not the enemy". That is true. 

While I do expect more people to be injured at work (and worse) due to the Tory and Lib Dem cuts in the HSE budget and the getting rid of essential protections, we have to blame the coalition and not the civil servants. Who at times have to implement and defend the indefensible.

I will post later on the Lofstedt report.

UNISON and the Great Pension Strike 30 November

Excellent! Hat tip thingy Gary.

Monday, December 05, 2011

London Marathon 2012 Training Wk 6: East London Cemetery

The Pension strike on Wednesday and the LAPFF Pension conference on Thursday meant that I missed two days marathon training. I have also swapped my weekly “long run” from Sunday to Saturday, since I want to keep up with going for country walks on a Sunday whenever possible.

This week I was supposed to either take part in a 10k race or go for a 60 minute run. I was too disorganised to find a race so instead I went for the run. First a warm up walk and then jog through Forest Gate backstreets. Followed by stretches near Romford Road. I then started running through West Ham Park, down to Plaistow Road, then across West Ham ward to join the Greenway via Canning Road. I turned left at the Greenway and ran along what will be a major route into the Olympic Park next year.

I then decided to turn right and go down to the East London Cemetery. Near to the gates of the cemetery there is a memorial to two mass graves of civilian air raid victims from Hackney during World War Two. Also buried in the cemetery are Elizabeth "Long Liz" Stride who was the 3rd victim of Jack the Ripper and Carl Hans Lody the 1st German spy to be executed by firing squad at the Tower of London during the World War One.

After the cemetery I went into Newham memorial Park, back on the Greenway then home. On way back I said “hello” very briefly to two of my ward constituents in West Road who I had met on a Street surgery last month.

This 60 minute run had been pretty tough but I was pleased that I had managed to keep going at a somewhat respectable rate. Even though my thigh muscles are giving some gip and I find it a little difficult to walk up stairs.

I am running the London marathon next year using the official advanced training programme and will be raising funds for Homeless Youth charity "Alone in London". Click here to sponsor me.

(picture of WW2 bomb victims buried in East London Cemetery and poster board with long list of "West Ham Air Raid Casualties")

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Those were the days...Mugabe

Hat tip Newham Tory Tim! apparently the advert had to be pulled due to threats of violence to Nando staff in Zimbabwe.

LAPFF 2011: "More Soviet than City"

The 2nd presentation at the LAPFF conference on Thursday was "Owners and directors: challenges to board", chaired by John Plender, of the Financial Times.  Simon Laffin, formerly Finance Director Safeway, former Chair Mitchells & Butler spoke first about the failure of regulators to ensure that British billionaires shareholders behave properly.While Ken Olisa, formerly Non-Executive Director Eurasian Natural Resources Company (ENRS) entertained us with a colourful account of the failure to ensure his Kazakhstan billionaire shareholders behaved any better.  He ended up the first Non-Executive Director of a FTSE 100 company to be sacked at an AGM! In his case this is a badge of honour methinks.

Afterwards there was a Q&A. Anne Kvam, Norges Bank Investment Management (Norwegian Sovereign wealth fund) and Stuart Morgan, National Express joined the panel.  I asked a question whether having a employee representative on a company board could improve diversity and the necessary checks and balances? Many successful European companies have such representation and they seem to do very well?  Anne said she was concerned that there were only 2 firms of headhunters who appoint nearly all Non-Executive directors in the UK and that in Norway a 1/3 of the Board are employee representatives while in Germany it is 50%. Simon was opposed and argued that a company board needed to work as a team and trust each over (not sure what he meant by that?), Stuart didn't think it would be much of a problem, while Ken thought that an employee representative would only represent employees and not the interests of the shareholders. 

My response to Ken would have been that he was speaking to an audience comprised mainly of different employers, officers and employee representatives who sit together on pension committees and should be putting the interests of the pension fund beneficiaries ahead of any thing else.  All members of a board however they are elected should act in the same way for their shareholders.

I only realised today that by one of those bizarre coincidences that often makes life interesting, Ken Olisa is also the Chair of ThamesReach. This is a housing charity whose members belong to my UNISON branch (I am the branch secretary) who were on strike over pensions and had a picket line outside ThamesReach HQ in Aldgate on Wednesday.  It's a small world.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Old Town Hall Stratford Christmas Lights Carols

Last night I went to a Christmas Carol concert inside the historic Old Town Hall in Stratford.  There was a choir from Carpenters Primary School who sang a lovely mixture of traditional and modern carols.  Including (I think) Gloria in excelsis Deo in Latin.

This was in front of the Mayor, Sir Robin Wales, Councillors, Council officers, teachers and parents.

Afterwards the Old Town Hall Christmas lights were switched on and there was a reception for the Children and their parents.
Everyone was pleased when Robin asked the Children how many were learning to play instruments at the School.  Nearly all of them put their hand up. The "Every Child a Musican" programme is now
bring run in 61 Newham Schools.

Keeping a beady eye on the performance in the left hand corner of the hall was this bust of the first ever Labour MP Keir Hardie.  I think he would have been pleased as well.

Friday, December 02, 2011

My N30: Day of Action for Decent Pensions for All

This collage is a snap shot of some of the experiences that I had during the Strike and Protest action held on Wednesday. Double click pic to bring up detail.

Pictures of Highbury and Islington roundabout full of UNISON placards and flags; the Housing Association private repair contractors who drove past and gave us the "thumbs up"; the Jiving for decent pensions and (of course) the march and SERTUC rally and finally the St Thomas hospital Picket line.

I will post these pictures on FaceBook later. (UPDATE see here)

One thing I should add is that this industrial dispute and day of action was really about decent pensions for all. Public service pensions are benchmarks for every decent pension scheme.  If they are destroyed then in my view,  every single good pension scheme is also at risk. Defined Benefit or Defined Contribution.

Now, I realise I might be a little bit unfair but the Government seem to be using the argument that since some private sector workers have rubbish pensions then so should the public sector.  Does this mean that since some workers are on the minimum wage (£6.08 per hour) then all workers should be on a minimum wage?

LAPFF Conference 2011: The Continuing Crisis

Another early start on Thursday to get to the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) 16th annual conference in Bournemouth from East London for 9am. LAPFFexists to promote the investment interests of local authority pension funds, and to maximise their influence as shareholders whilst promoting social responsibility and corporate governance at the companies in which they invest....Formed in 1990....combined assets of over £100 billion”.

It is of course quite ironic that this conference took place less than 24 hours after I had been on a (number of) picket lines in the biggest industrial dispute since 1926 over pensions.

Both of the local government pensions schemes I have an “interest” in are members of LAPFF. This year for the first time I was at the conference as a Councillor rather than as a Staff side representative. Which caused some confusion. I’ll try and post on as many of the excellent presentations and debates as possible. If you are a member of a local authority pension committee or panel in any capacity (and any Party or Union) then this is the conference to come to. It is politically non-partisan which in this context I think is very much a good thing.

Tom Watson MP was to be the opening speaker but his mum has fallen ill so he has had to send his apologies. The Chair of LAPFF Cllr Ian Greenwood and PIRC Tom Powdrill instead did a presentation on “The Hacking Scandal: Lessons for Investors”.  

LAPFF have been trying to remove James Murdock (son of Rupert) as Chair of BSkyB not so much with regard to the appalling behaviour of News of the World reporters etc but concern about his independence and the reputational risk to our investments and what this is doing to shareholder value. For example will OFCOM still consider NewsCorp to be a fit and proper shareholder of BSkyB? If they don’t - what impact will this have to Pension fund investments in BSkyB?