Sunday, 24 April 2011

Redhill and Ireland

Down to Redhill on Friday last to campaign in the local election campaign there for Phil Wilson, standing in Redhill West. We spent the morning, in blazing sunshine and the heat, going around the more leafy areas near London Road and near East Surrey College where Phil works. A mixture of responses on the doorsteps and many people out because of the weather and the Easter weekend.

Then off to a lovely old pub in Reigate for lunch with some other local campaigners and then we canvassed one of the largest council estates in the ward in the afternoon. The sight of Phil discussing AV with a voter wielding a kitchen knife at the door was somewhat concerning - but she turned out to be a Green voter. Noticed severeal Eastern European EU citizens also there and pointed out that they were entitled to vote, one was a Romanian and I pointed out my interest and connection with Romania, having spent my summer holidays there last year and my strong connections with the Romanian Green Party.

Finally off for a quick drink to the town centre, where I met sitting Green councillor, Jonathan Essex, who is campaigning in the neigbouring ward for his running mate and then it was the train back to London. I am certain that Phil will do well in Redhill - he is hardworking and committed and has signed up to the local anti-cuts campaign.

Here is his campaign video and website. I hope that other Londoners will go down to help before May 5th.

Meanwhile I am off to Dublin tomorrow to visit family and friends and to escape the royal wedding - my local residents association are organising a street party and have dropped royalist leaflets in my letter box - Ugh! More on my time in Ireland on my return as I will be too busy visiting people and drinking Guinness to blog for a week at least.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Hardest Hit March - Fight the cuts to disability benefits on May 11th

Details here of the Hardest Hit March, which is for disabled people and supporters to fight the cuts to disability benefits on May 11th. Last week disabled protesters brought the offices of the Daily Mail to a halt by protesting about the way that right wing rag labels disabled people and those on benefits. The attacks on disabled people, which can easily creat the scapegoating climate for hate crimes - and there have been many examples in recent years of disabled people being attacked and killed - must be resisted.

This government, and it must be said supported by many right wing Labour MPs who supported the Welfare Reform Act, is determined to grind disabled people into the dust, to force them into slave labour, on compulsory work schemes with wage rates lower than those of the minimum wage, or to starve. We have already seen recently the scandal, finally admitted by the DWP itself, of staff being told to knock claimants off benefits for minor infractions or none, and many of those people were those with learning difficulties or mental health problems. Now the grasping fingers of ATOS Medical Services and A4E will be let loose on thousands of isolated and vulnerable disabled people, not all of whom will be articulate enough to appeal, especially when so many advice agencies have closed down and free legal aid is effectively abolished.

The government has been clear that they expect at least 20% of those on Disability Living Allowance to lose it. The ruthlessness of the government and its advisors is extraordinary. DLA is a benefit which is given not to those who are unable to work (20% of those on DLA work) but in order for disabled people to live a full life, to be able to access the workplace and to be a full member of society and live a decent life. And even for the 80% of DLA claimants who do not work and many of whom cannot work, where exactly are these jobs to come from? There is already clear evidence in the stats that employers are deeply unwilling to employ disabled people - the numbers of disabled people in employment demonstrate this - or to make the necessary adjustments to make the workplace disabled friendly. Instead these people will be deprived of vital support, creating a great deal of stress and hardship at home, and forced into employment schemes run by dodgy private companies, who are being paid a whopping great fee for putting them on these schemes in the first place.

It is a return to the Victorian Poor Law for disabled people - further evidence of this government's determination to pauperise disabled people. If Dickens were still writing he would describe it for what is it is - the oppressive spirit of the workhouse and parish beadle. I will be marching on May 11th, and I hope that anyone with a shred of social conscience and awareness will do likewise. This must be stopped in its tracks!

Here is a song from that great work of the English theatre 'The Beggar's Opera' devoted to Atos, A4E and the other vulture companies who intend to dine out on disabled people thanks to Ian Duncan Smith and Co.

"I proceed from a partisan family - my grandfathers fought and died struggling against an occupation."

Footage here on the life of Vittorio Arrigoni, who has been murdered in Gaza, supposedly by Salafists, who was a member of the International Solidarity Movement and who went to Gaza to support the rights of the Palestinian people. Vittorio, as he says himself, came from a partisan family in Italy and was unable to watch the suffering of the Palestinians without acting. He was on one of the first boats into Gaza in 2009.

He joins a long list of international activists who have died trying to assist the Palestinian people and oppose their oppression by a brutal regime. The pictures of the Israeli snipers firing on the farmers harvesting their crops are truly shocking. I have been invited to write a short piece for the Jewish Socialist magazine about where the Green Party stands on these issues. I salute Vittorio and all those brave people who have been involved in the campaigns to support the Palestinian people.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Latest developments on HIV

While I work in the disability field and am often involved in disability policy (responding on behalf of the Green Party to government consultations etc) as well as having several disabled activist friends, I hardly ever talk nowadays about my own disability or have contact with others who are also HIV+. That was certainly not the case in the 90s when I was active in running a support group for people living with the virus, nor in the years from 1998 to 2001, when I was a trustee and Vice Chair of the Positive Place in South London, a centre for people living with HIV, which unfortunately closed over a year ago. My problem is that, unlike some others involved in politics, I am not a single issue person, and see health, economics, foreign affairs, social policy, equality etc as all intrinsically linked and so often get drawn into aspects of all of these.

This has been one of my busiest weeks, having chaired the London Ambulance Service Patients Forum on Monday night, travelled to Birmingham and back on Tuesday night to debate the cuts (representing Coalition of Resistance) and taken minutes last night at the Green Left committee meeting. Tomorrow night I get a night off for good behaviour:)

However, tonight I am attending a meeting on HIV - details below -which will be on the latest reseach in the field.

This week... THE FUTURE OF LIVING WITH HIV - Thursday 14th April 6.00 - 7.30

A medical up-date - with feed-back from last week's British HIV Association (BHIVA) conference.

We will have up to date news on all the latest thinking, medical advancements, developments and future research.

Dr Ian Williams (who is stepping down this year as Chair of BHIVA), Dr Gary Whitlock and Dr John Thornhill will lead the discussion

The venue will be Lecture Theatre 2 in University College London's Cruciform Building at the top end of Gower Street between Uiversity Street and Grafton Way. Nearest tubes Warren Street and Euston Square.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Disability activist's speech at the TUC demo on March 26th

Sean Mc Govern, who sits on the TUC as one of the disabled reps, gave the following speech at the TUC demo on March 26th. Sean is well known to me and is an activist in UNITE and also Chair of the Lambeth Pan Disability Forum. At a time when the government and right wing press are attacking disabled people like never before, it is very important to support them.



Hello Comrades, I’m Sean McGovern, a disabled trade union activist; and, I’m honoured to be here today part of this anti-cuts movement. Which is growing daily!

Comrades, disabled people are fighting for the most basic of human rights.

• The right to work;

• the right to a living income for those who can’t work;

• the right to sustenance;

• the right to decent care support;

• the right to live without hate crime; and

• the right to dignity!

May I congratulate some of our popular media? Well done the Daily Heil, the Sun and Express, you purveyors of disablist propaganda. Along with the rubbish-end of TV and attention seeking politicians you’ve managed to demonise disabled people.

In times of recession and economic downturn governments and their media hounds need a scapegoat; history has shown us this; today it’s the turn of disabled people – who’s next?

No wonder hate crime against disabled people is on the rise.

While the bankers caused this economic crisis disabled people’s support and benefits are being blamed.

So much so that we are feeling the brunt of the ConDem ideological cuts.

They say these cuts aren’t ideological – liars!

• Replacing Disability Living Allowance with a Personal Independence Payment, with predicted savings of 20% – naked ideology!

• Introducing a draconian set of Work Capability Assessments – viciously ideological!

• Migrating disabled people from Incapacity Benefit to poverty level JobSeekers Allowance – driven by ideology!

• Removing hundreds of items from Access to Work; a scheme that earns 20% for every pound spent! – stupid ideology!

• Supported employment schemes such as Remploy under threat; thus adding to an ever-increasing unemployment queue and benefits bill – misguided ideology!

Not content with attacking our jobs and benefits they’re bent on depriving us of life enhancing resources. And calling it the BIG SOCIETY!

Day centres are closing. Council care is being cut. Direct Payments bills slashed as eligibility criteria are squeezed to critical only.

Comrades, every day disabled people are dying due to ConDem ideologically driven policies. They must go!

Today the struggle shifts up a gear! From here we must return to our cities, towns and villages to organise everyone against this ConDem regime; these enemies of disabled people, these enemies of the people – our class!!”

Sean McGovern speaks at March for the Alternative from Trades Union Congress on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The Italian involvement in Libya

Recently attended a Stop the War Coalition rally on Libya, where George Galloway, in his inimitable fashion came out with the line: "the last time the Italians were in Libya they were wearing the black shirt of Benito Mussolini!" This reminded me of the film 'Lion of the Desert' which I saw some years ago and which was financed, apparently, by Gaddafi. The story of the Italian war crimes in Libya are a matter of historical record and it is also a huge historical irony, that Berlusconi's government, which includes the political descendants of Mussolini paid reparations to Gaddafi only a couple of years ago for Italian war crimes.

Even more ironic now that Italy is one of two governments to recognise the regime in Benghazi. One is tempted to say, with friends like that....

Anyway here is the clip from the film where Mussolini expresses his frustration that the Italian army cannot crush the Libyans and appoints General Graziani to mastermind his torture and oppression of the Bedouin. Has a ring of contemporary events about it.

Monday, 11 April 2011

London Ambulance Service Patients Forum Meeting Tonight at 5.30pm

Tonight is the monthly meeting of the LAS Patients Forum which I chair. We are having a discussion on Infection Control in the LAS, an issue which has hit the headlines last week with reports of superbugs etc. We will also be reporting back on the scrutiny into the LAS which was recently held by the London Assembly's Health and Public Services Committee, along with the news last week, widely reported in the press about a woman who suffered serious brain damage because of ambulance delays. A full agenda yet again.

Patients’ Forum Meeting

Monday April 11th 2011, 5.30–7.30pm

Conference Room, LAS Headquarters, 220 Waterloo Road, SE1

Nearest Tube and Rail: Waterloo


BSL signers will be available


1) Minutes of Meeting held March 14th 2010

2) Matters arising and action points

3) Chair’s Report – Joseph Healy

3) ‘Infection Control in the LAS’ – Steve Lennox, Director of Health Promotion and Quality London Ambulance Service


4) London Assembly Scrutiny into LAS – Malcolm Alexander

5) Public and Patient Involvement Team Report

6)LAS Committee Reports

7) Target performance and turnaround times

Press Reports


Other Reports

The meeting will close at 7.30pm

Glorious sunshine, campaigning and the beach in Brighton

Down to Brighton yesterday to help the local election campaign in Brighton - well, Hove actually - old joke there. My friend and Chair of the LGBT Greens, Phelim Mac Cafferty is standing for election in Brunswick ward there along with Ollie Sykes. So together with a colleague from the London Green Party we caught an early train down from London arriving in Hove just after 11 as the Sunday trains take longer.

The weather was glorious and the sea breezes wafting up the steep streets from the sea below made it worthwhile coming to Hove, election or no election. The Brighton marathon was also on and the sea front was the course, with limping athletes regularly passing the ice cream vans and the assorted day trippers and others lying on the beach or swimming - it was certainly warm enough for a dip yesterday!

Gathering our materials, we proceeded to set up a stall along the main road but sufficiently far away from the main 'drag' of the marathon, where we would have been overwhelmed by crowds. We were also strategically placed opposite the GMB building, which was the only one I saw in the area festooned with 'vote Labour' posters. A small annexe at the back was also marked as 'Labour HQ' but we saw no activity there all day - perhaps an indication of some fallback in activism locally, although I believe that the party is active elsewhere in Brighton.

Apart from the candidates, we were also joined by Chris Hawtree, the candidate in the adjoining ward, whom I discovered is also a man of letters and very kindly presented me with a copy of his 'Anthology on Dogs' which he was seeking to sell to passing dog owners in order to raise campaign funds. I promised that we would have a chat about literature at some point in the future as it is one of my passions. As there were so many people passing by, some of whom were visiting Brighton and others who were there for the marathon, we made a point of trying to single out those who were living locally. A number of conversations over local issues ensued with the candidates, including a local Labour Party member who wished the campaign well. We were also dispatched to deliver window posters to locals who had promised to put them up, along with a covering letter. I noticed a number of Green posters on various windows.

There was a very positive response from the voters and several said that they were voting Green on May 5th or would seriously consider it. All felt that it was a very productive day. I managed to take my lunch on the beach and gaze at the oh so blue sea shimmering in the sunshine. By five o'clock the streets were quieter and we dismantled the stall - most of the election literature had been distributed and there were no negative responses whatsoever, apart from the occasional Tory voter in twin set and pearls who dismissed us with disdain.

Then it was off for a quick drink, by then I was suffering from sunburn, along with several others who had been on the stall, though I had taken the precaution of wearing a hat. I finally caught the 7.20 train from Hove back to London Victoria via Brighton.

I am unable to come down to help the campaign again as I have a meeting of the party's international committee next Saturday and not quite sure yet about my movements over the Easter weekend, as I will be leaving for Ireland on Easter Monday. But I wished them all well and certainly based on my experiences yesterday, I think that the campaign is going really well. Hopefully next time I am down I can spend some time by the sea and celebrate the election of several new Green councillors in Hove.

Friday, 8 April 2011

No Pasaran! Lambeth Green Party supports the Latin American pensioners of Lambeth

With the news that the Latin American pensioners community centre in Lambeth, Los Anos Dorados, is about to close and that the pensioners have decided to occupy the Social Services HQ reported on Derek Wall's blog, as Press Officer of Lambeth Green Party we have issued the following press release:

"Lambeth Green Party gives its full support to the daycentre representing the Latin American pensioners of Lambeth, Los Anos Dorados, who will be protesting outside the Lambeth Social Services Building, Phoenix House, at Vauxhall next Wednesday, April 13th from 12pm.

The cuts in Lambeth, which are a combination of cuts orchestrated by the ConDem government and the local Labour council, have ravaged services for some of the most vulnerable people in the borough and have particularly hit the voluntary sector, leading to a loss of jobs and support for older people, disabled people and children. Lambeth is the centre of one of the largest Latin American communities in London and Los Anos Dorados is a vital service for Latin American pensioners in the borough. Facing social isolation and also linguistic isolation, many of these pensioners will effectively have no other services to support them if this organisation closes.

We call upon Lambeth Council and Lambeth Labour Party to stand up for these vulnerable residents and to offer real help rather than to try and stand behind soundbites and protest posters. Los Anos Dorados needs support now.”
Green Left will also, of course, support this campaign and some Green Left members will be present at the protest on Wednesday with the Green Left banner.

And along similar lines, this week saw the start of a concerted attack on disabled people via the benefits system and spearheaded by Atos Medical Services. Here is the report of a whistleblower who used to work for the organisation. Pensioners, ethnic minorities and disabled people are at the forefront of these attacks by this government and its cronies in the tabloid press. No Pasaran!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The mouse that roared

With bellicose talk in the Commons and throughout the tabloids of liberal interventionsim in Libya and "something must be done", time for a reality check. Yesterday came the news that the former aircraft carrier, Ark Royal, is for sale on ebay and you can add it to your cart. Ebay? And the discussion continues about what can actually be flown off the deck off the existing aircraft carrier? Helicopters.

It is time for a reality check. The UK is no longer an imperial power but a middle ranking European state. It should stop trying to be the world's enforcer and sidekick to the USA, in various imperial adventures in far flung lands. At a time when hospitals, schools and even basic benefits for disabled people are being cut, there is simply no excuse for the millions wasted by the MOD and the even madder Trident programme.

All of this reminds me of the idiocy and pomposity portrayed by Sir Joseph Porter, the Admiral, in Gilbert and Sullivan's 'HMS Pinafore', a production of which I am going to see soon.


When I was a lad I served a term

As office boy to an Attorney's firm.

I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor,

And I polished up the handle of the big front door.

I polished up that handle so carefullee

That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!


As office boy I made such a mark

That they gave me the post of a junior clerk.

I served the writs with a smile so bland,

And I copied all the letters in a big round hand--

I copied all the letters in a hand so free,

That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!


In serving writs I made such a name

That an articled clerk I soon became;

I wore clean collars and a brand-new suit

For the pass examination at the Institute,

And that pass examination did so well for me,

That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!


Of legal knowledge I acquired such a grip

That they took me into the partnership.

And that junior partnership, I ween,

Was the only ship that I ever had seen.

But that kind of ship so suited me,

That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!


I grew so rich that I was sent

By a pocket borough into Parliament.

I always voted at my party's call,

And I never thought of thinking for myself at all.

I thought so little, they rewarded me

By making me the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!


Now landsmen all, whoever you may be,

If you want to rise to the top of the tree,

If your soul isn't fettered to an office stool,

Be careful to be guided by this golden rule--

Stick close to your desks and never go to sea,

And you all may be rulers of the Queen's Navee!


Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Fighting Fascism in Hungary

As Brecht wrote of Fascism in 1945: "The beast is dead but the whore that bore him still lives." Now with increasing globalisation and the austerity programme being imposed on the people of Europe, with resulting poverty and unemployment, we are witnessing its rebirth. Terrible photos here of Fascists, in this case the Magyar Garda (paramilitary wing of the Jobbik party) marching through a village with a Roma community and deliberately taunting them. Echoes here of the Hungary of Admiral Horthy and later the Arrow Cross (the Fascist Hungarians allied to the Nazis) who deported thousands of Hungarian Jews and Roma to the death camps.

So it is really heartening to see that the young Green Party of Hungary (LMP) are standing shoulder to shoulder with the Roma communities and trying to protect them. Here is an account of what is happening, and an explanation of how the European Green Party Council meeting in Budapest last weekend was surrounded by a cordon sanitaire. Pictures here of the Fascist thugs and of a Roma activist addressing the Roma community protected by members of Amnesty International and the Hungarian Greens.

The history of this part of Europe must never be forgotten nor the fact that Roma across Central and Eastern Europe continue to suffer harassment and intimidation - which has been copied by the right wing regimes in Italy and France, the former including many of the political descendants of Mussolini, with both countries now parading their defence of human rights in Libya, while turning back both North African refugees and Roma EU citizens.

I send my total support to the LMP and to all those political forces fighting racism and Fascism in Hungary. There is no place for this in the Europe of the 21st century and the beast must be crushed.

News from Ireland or What went wrong for the Irish Greens?

Have been in touch with family and friends in Dublin again re what is happening in the Irish Republic following the election of the new government and particularly the fate of the Irish Greens. Apparently they sent a delegation to Budapest last weekend to ask other European Green parties how to rebuild – notice the reference to the Czechs, another party that fell after entering a right wing coalition.

I will be interested to hear from our delegates who were there if they picked up on any of this discussion but I suspect that most conversations were with the Germans and others who hold the European Green Party purse strings, as the Irish party is now bankrupt and without state funds. My brother told me yesterday that they are considering becoming an environmental pressure group. Probably advisable as I cannot see them rising from the ashes for a long time, unless they totally rid themselves of their leadership, although the current leader has stood down.

Meanwhile Bronwen Maher, now in the Irish Labour party, and who I will be meeting in Dublin, has written about the new situation there: “I'll also send an email soon on my observations on how Labour is coping with FG (too many deja vue moments for me, who remembers too clearly how it all went pear shaped with my last party). But there are differences, Labour has a large cohort of backbenchers who wont be easily manipulated and Labour have a definite mandate to be in Gov. Otherwise its incredibly depressing there is no strong voice in the Dáil on environmental matters.”
Bronwen’s husband, Steve Rawson, a former Head of Media for the Irish Greens, has also written this interesting piece on what went wrong for the Irish Greens.

Grim warnings in all of this for those who do not sup with long spoons when having supper with right wing coalitions – and that can include the New New Labour Party, witness Ed Balls’s recantation of his former position on the cuts.

Here is a satirical sketch on the type of PR driven election broadcasts which featured in the recent Irish general election and which have some similarities with their counterparts in the UK.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Royal Wedding? Pass the sick bag

As a committed republican and a citizen of the Irish Republic I have decided to escape the royal comedy, aka wedding, by going to Dublin at Easter and not to return for the best part of a week. I can only advise those remaining to take a couple of stiff drinks, make your protests clear, or like me, depart the monarchical shores for more republican climes. Peter Tatchell is of a similar view and his foundation have put out the following piece of news. I am still hoping that someday soon the British people will rid themselves of the outdated and elistist institution, along with that other waxworks emporium the House of Lords.

Royal Wedding - Do you give a damn?

A 21st Century Royal Wedding: Monarchy, Class, History & Celebrity

This is a recording of the public debate hosted by Editorial Intelligence in association with The Foreign Press Association at the Commonwealth Club in London on 30 March 2011.

Listen to the debate (MP3) here:

Peter Tatchell's contribution can heard from 35.45 minutes into the debate.

Other speakers: Sarah Sands (Deputy Editor, Evening Standard), Peter Kellner (President, YouGov polling organisation), Rachel Johnson (Editor, The Lady) and HE Nicola Clase (Swedish Ambassador).

"An ICM poll  published in March, found that 79% of the British people are largely indifferent or don't care about the Royal Wedding. One-third of councils have no applications for Royal Wedding street parties and two-thirds have five or fewer applications. There is no great public enthusiasm for William's and Kate's nuptials. Monarchy is losing its lustre. It's becoming just another strand of celebrity culture and soap opera," said human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell.

"We should start thinking about the post-Elizabeth II era. It's time there was a serious public debate about the alternative to the monarchy - an elected head of state, chosen by the people and accountable to the people.

"This is an issue of democracy and human rights. The monarch is our head of state. The monarchical system is anti-Catholic, sexist and, by default, racist. Catholics are barred. For the foreseeable future, no black or Asian person can be our head of state. First-born girls are passed over in favour of younger male children. These discriminations are out of step with the values of modern, liberal Britain.

"I would prefer a democratically-elected, low-cost and purely ceremonial president, with no political powers and with any citizen being eligible to stand for the post, regardless of their race, gender, class, faith or sexuality.

"Our head of state ought to be chosen based on merit and public endorsement, not on the grounds of privileged parentage and inheritance. They should be subject to periodic election, so they can be replaced if they fail to fulfill their duties as expected.

"Monarchy is incompatible with democracy. It's a relic of feudalism and of a bygone aristocratic, imperial era. The time has come to consign royalism to history," said Mr Tatchell.