Stop HS2 Rally at Parliament
Old Palace Yard, Westminster, London. Mon 28 Apr 2014
Two people in animal suits pose with a giant 'HS2 Rip
Off' rail ticket
Protesters from protest groups all along the proposed HS2 high speed
rail link came to call on MPs to vote against the HS2 Bill being debated in
the House of Commons this afternoon, holding a photocall and rally before
The plans for the HS2 rail route seem flawed on so many accounts that it
is hard to see why our government is wasting time on debating them. Although
at the moment Labour are supporting them, this seems to be largely for tactical
reasons, and it seems to me unlikely that, whichever party wins the 2015 election
that the project will go ahead as currently envisaged.
Meanwhile many people will have their lives blighted by the proposals, their
homes becoming impossible to sell until the affair is sorted out. The plans
envisage 10 years of living in a building site for many Camden residents,
and long term misery for many others along the route.
The result would be a line isolated from the rest of our rail network which
would in the first instance only go to Birmingham. Its effect would be to
pull more development from there down to London.
We do need greater capacity on our rail system, but this can be better acheived
in other ways and at lower cost. And if the scheme is to encourage greater
development in the north, it is being started from the wrong end. It would
make far more sense to begin by linking northern cities (and perhaps Birmingham)
by improved rail links before extending these down to London.
A couple of hundred came for today's protest, with a large contingent from
Camden, but others from Marston in Shropshire, Harefield, and elsewhere. They
came with banners and placards and a large inflatable white elephant. Later
a couple of bears turned up with a very large rail ticket about the £50
billion rip-off of HS2. Several MPs came to speak: Conservatives Andrew
Bridgen, MP for North West Leicestershire, Bill Cash, MP for
Stoke and Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy and Labour's MP for Holborn and
St Pancras, Frank Dobson. At one point one of the organisers suggested
people might vote for UKIP who are apparently against HS2, but many then shouted
out that people should vote for the Green Party instead who also oppose it,
and a biker came forward to speak about the Green Party's view. After the
politicians we heard from Hilary Wharf, a Director of HS2 Action
Alliance and Penny Gaines from Stop HS2.
As I left, one of the team who have spent 7 years developing an alternative
to HS2, High Speed UK, was talking about their design, for a future high speed
network, which is designed with connectivity in mind. Their web site has some
300 pages describing the scheme which puts a spine up the country essentially
on the route of the current East Coast main line to Edinburgh and Glasgow,
with branches to Birmingham and another to Manchester and Liverpool. Unlike
HS2 it offers advantages for all cities in the UK, essentially improving our
whole rail system, while HS2 seems more like a limited service for a small
elite of travellers at a high cost premium.
HSUK - which has recently opened a web site with full details - avoids damage
to the Chilterns by following the M1 and would be 25% cheaper than HS2, while
offering time savins on average of 40% for most intercity services - not just
those on the high speed route. It would also give a large carbon reduction
- around 6W% of our 2050 target, while at best HS2 hopes to be carbon neutral.
Workers Memorial Day
Tower Hill, London. Mon 28 Apr 2014
Wrreaths and a cross at the statue of the Building Worker
on Tower Hill
Trade unionists remembered over 50 deaths in construction this year at
the statue of the Building Worker. The memorial rally took place around a
coffin with boots, work gloves and hard hats; wreaths were laid and black
A TUC statement for Workers' Memorial Day warned "that the government’s
persistent ideological attacks on key health and safety legislation threaten
even more accidents, injuries and deaths at work." They go on to
In a new report published today Toxic, Corrosive and Hazardous: The government’s
record on health and safety, the TUC reveals that in the last four years
the government has drastically cut Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspections,
cut funding to the HSE by 40 per cent, blocked new regulations and removed
vital existing protections, prevented improved European regulation on health
and safety, cut support for employers and health and safety reps, seen local
authorities reduce their workplace inspections by 93 per cent, and made
it much harder for workers to claim compensation if they are injured or
made ill at work following employer negligence.
The government is now trying to change the law to exempt large numbers
of self-employed workers from health and safety protection. This is a huge
concern as self-employed people are more than twice as likely to be killed
at work than other workers.
The TUC believes that if this government assault on basic workplace protections
continues it will have a significant impact on the health and safety of
people at work – and that many more lives will be unnecessarily put
The international theme for this year's Workers’ Memorial Day announced
by announced by ITUC, the global union body coordinating the event worldwide,
is 'Protecting workers around the world through strong regulation, enforcement
and union rights' and it encourages unions to use the slogan, 'Unions
make work safer'.
After a number of speeches, including those by Gail Cartmail, Assistant
General Secretary of Unite, Tony O'Brien of the Construction Safety
Campaign and Jerry Swain Regional Secretary for UCATT's London and
South East Region, wreaths and flowers were laid at the base of the statue
by UCATT, Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman and Liliana Alexa
who founded the Battersea Crane Disaster Action Group after her son Michael
was killed by a falling crane as he walked past a building site near his Battersea
home. The 50 or so black balloons, one for each construction worker killed
at work in the past year, were then released and the event then concluded
with a period of silence around the coffin with its boots, hard hat and work
gloves and a hard hat for each worker killed around it.
Cat Hill Protest against L&Q
Cat Hill, Cockfosters, London. Sat 26 Apr 2014
Unfortunately the protesters didn't want to be photographed,
so my journey was rather a waste of time
Protesters at the former Cat Hill campus of Middlesex University have
exposed various illegal acts by developers L & Q but been unable to get
the relevant agencies to take action to stop the demolitions, tree felling
and killing of wildlife.
Enfield Council approved revised plans for the site in March last year despite
long and determined opposition from local residents and environmental activists.
As a development of strategic important it then went to London Mayor Boris
Johnson who approved the plans in September 2013.
I've been reading for some months about the 'blockade' of the demolition
site at Cat Hill near Cockfosters, and went there today as the protesters
had promised that this weekend would be an 'Abundance Festival'. Unfortunately
nothing seemed to be happening when I visited, and though I was able to talk
with a couple of the local residents who have been the backbone of the protest
I learnt little more about the protest than I already knew from Facebook.
Kim Coleman, leader of the Save Cat Hill campaign went to ask if I could
take photographs elsewhere on the site and came back shortly with the message
that I could not, but that I could photograph as I liked at the main gate
protest. But shortly after another of the protesters objected to me taking
pictures. It seemed strange behaviour for a protest that a week ago, when
there were rather more people at the blockade had tweeted "Need National
coverage! #cathill", and from which I've received frequent requests to
visit. It perhaps helps to explain why this protest doesn't appear to have
got the support it deserves. I'm unlikely to return.
London and Quadrant (L&Q) now appear to have demolished all of the buildings
and cut down many trees from the site, and they have also been removing asbestos.
Suring the demolition there were severe dust problems in the surrounding area,
as the demolition area was only sprayed with water during two days of the
work. The protesters have also supplied evidence of the leak of pollution
from the site into Pymmes Brook, killing fish and frogs. In March, Andrew
Dismore, Labour London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden and the Labour
candidates for the East Barnet ward wrote to the Chief Executive of the Environment
Agency, Dr Paul Leinster demanding that they test the Pymmes Brook for contaminants
from the Cat Hill construction site.
Andrew Dismore sstated:
"What is going on at Cat Hill is environmental vandalism. It is
clear that the ancient Pymmes Brook is being contaminated and that wildlife
is being affected. The Environment Agency must act and set a precedent for
The Environment Agency has the powers of enforcement; it just needs
to use them"
L & Q appear to have prematurely destroyed buildings containing 3 bat
roosts and that many of the newts on the site have been killed as a result
of them failing to take the proper precautions. Among other complaints they
say a bulldozer ripped out a willow tree by its roots rather than simply trimming
it as allowed in the licence, with the result that most of the water drained
out of the newt breeding pond. The few newts that managed to make it to the
pond are in very shallow water and are easy prey for the heron and moorhens.
Natural England have been very slow to investigate the many breaches by the
developers in the various licences related to trees and newts. MEP Syed Kamall
(European Conservatives and Reformists) raised the question of their ineptidtude
over the destruction of ancient woodland at Cat Hill in a written question
in the European Parliament, and was told that "the competent national
authorities are already looking into this matter" although this
so far seems to have had little effect.
The protesters earlier had a sound legal case for Judicial Review against
Enfield Council as the two ponds at Cat Hill are heritage sites (and are mentioned
in the Domesday Book), and Enfield Council had failed to consult Engish Heritage
and the Woodland Trust, and had not made an Environmental Impact Assessment.
They were forced to drop in when the the legal costs became excessive - several
times their initial budget they had raised from local residents of £8000,
They were also advised that the developers would simply have to resubmit their
application and make sure that things were done correctly this time, so it
would have no long-term effect.
Currently they are looking into the possibility of a further legal challenge
based on the covenant documents for the site, which apparently stipulate that
it be used for educational purposes. L & Q are intending to build 163
flats and 69 houses on the 10 acre site.
IKEA Not Welcome on Greenwich Peninsula
Sainsbury's Eco-Park, Greenwich. Sat 26 Apr 2014
The protesters posed for a picture for the local paper
Local residents launched the 'No IKEA Greenwich Peninsula' campaign with
a picnic today in the eco-garden which will be lost along with the pioneering
and award winning Sainsbury's built only 15 years ago if the plans for the
superstore go ahead.
The building, opened in 1999 by Jamie Oliver, has been described by Twentieth
Century Society Director Catherine Croft as 'the most innovative retail
store to have been built in the UK in the last 50 years' with a complete
re-thinking of traditional supermarket design to maximise energy efficiency,
minimise the impact on the environment and improve the experience for customers,
and it acheived the highest ever official environmental rating for a retail
Its architect, Paul Hinkin wants it to be grade II * listed, describing it
as "a paradigm shift in public building which must be preserved",
continuing that "If its wanton destruction is permitted, it will
do irreparable harm to the cause of sustainable development in the UK."
It is the only supermarket ever to have been shortlisted for the Stirling
Prize, was selection by the Design Council as a Millennium Product, won the
RIBA Journal Sustainability Award, a RIBA Regional Award 2000, the Design
Museum’s Design Sense Award, Retail Week Store Design of the Year 2000
and was Channel 4 Building of the Year People’s Choice in 2000.
It is an impressive building inside, with a high roof providing high levels
of natural north lighting. Outside from most angles it looks like a huge grass-covered
flying saucer, but the entrance front is impressive and very clean and user
friendly. It seems to me (and I've photographed many listed buildings professionally)
that it makes an exceptional case for listing. It stands out hugely compared
to the cinema, other stores and warehouses in the area as a building of class.
Local opposition to the IKEA store centres around the traffic chaos that
will result for the extra 2 million visitors who are expected to drive to
the store each year. IKEA claims that 35% of customers would travel there
by public transport, but few would choose to carry heavy flat pack furniture
on a bus or walk the mile to the nearest tube or up over the bridge half a
mile to the overground rail station. At their Tottenham store only 22% come
by public transport - and trains seldom bother to stop at the nearby station.
They point out that the Greeenwich site only has parking for just over 600
cards, half or one third of other London IKEA stores, and that traffic congestion
in the area between the Blackwall Tunnel and the A2 is some of the worst in
London. With housing planned for another 15,000 in the area things will get
much worse, and there are already large areas of near gridlock with large
events at the nearby O2 area and Charlton football stadium. Other IKEA stores
in urban areas have a policy of refusing to allow customers to take furniture
home themselves to reduce car use, but they have refused to implement this
in the planned Greenwich store.
The London area is hardly short of IKEA stores, with large stores on far
more suitable sites at Croydon, Tottenham (Edmonton), Wembley and Lakeside.
Recently plans for another in a more suiteble site adjoining the A20 in Sidcup
were rejected on grounds of the impact it would have on local roads.
Greenwich Council gave the IKEA scheme outline planning permission last month,
but have failed to demand a full Environme Impact Assessment and have relied
on unlikely IDEA estimates such as that for public transport. Air quality
in the area around the site is already poor, with nitrogen dioxide levels
roughly twice the legal limit. IKEA claim that the extra traffic their store
will attract will somehwoe reduce this.
Todays protest was in a small eco-park adjoining Sainsbury's with a pond,
fruit trees, bees and varied habitats which will be bulldozed if the store
goes ahead, and was supported by the Greenwich Green Party along with other
local residents. Around forty people came to sign up their support against
the development and a petition to London Mayor Boris Johnson and to pose for
the local press before having a picnic in the quiet and peaceful park they
want to keep. A few people were still arriving as I left.
Rana Plaza Anniversary at GAP
Oxford St, London. Thur 24 Apr 2014
Katherine Hamnett poses in front of the GAP window in her 'No More Fashion
Katharine Hamnett and Amin Haque from the National Garment Workers Federation
in Dhaka protested with others outside GAP's flagship Oxford St store, calling
on GAP to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Building & Fire Safety and pay
The protesters formed a human chain stretching along front of GAP and further
down busy Oxford St at lunchtime as a part of an international day of action
a year after the worst accident in a manufacturing facility in recorded history,
when 1,138 workers died at the Rana Plaza factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Fewer than half the fashion retailers who sold goods made in the factory
have so far contributed to the compensation fund backed by the UN's International
Labour Organisation, and others have offered only token amounts. Primark has
made a donation of $8m, while Walmart, one of the largest retailers (and owners
of Asda in the UK) have only given around $1m. Other companies including Benetton,
Matalan and Auchan have for various reasons declined to contribute. The total
received to date is under 40% of the target of $40m.
Over 150 brands, including Arcadia, Bonmarche, Debenhams, John Lewis, Marks
and Spencer, Matalan, Mothercare, New Look, Next, Primark, River Island, Sainsbury’s
and Tesco have signed up to the Bangladesh Accord for Fire and Building Safety
launched by War on Want and their Bangladeshi partners the National
Garment Workers Federation, which brings together brands and trade unions
in a legally binding agreement to make factories safe. Factory inspections
have led to at least eight factories being closed for major structural repair.
But some brands - including GAP have refused to sign.
Those backing the memorial action included campaigning groups War on Want,
Labour Behind the Label, fashion industry activists and trade unionists. A
press release for the anniversary by the US State Department told of "the
significant and unnecessary risks that many workers are still forced to take
in order to earn a living and support their families" and urged
action to ensure that such disasters never happen again.
A group of protesters began to empty out building rubble on the pavement
outside gap as a start to the protest, putting up placards and posters, with
the messages 'No More Fashion Victims', 'Mind the Safety GAP',
'Warning - Lethal Working Conditions' and 'Pay UP! - Long Overdue
- for Rana Plaza Victims'. Others held large colour photographs of the
parents of some of those who lost sons and daughters in Rana Plaza. Katherine
Hamnett posed in front of the store windows in a t-shirt with the messages
'NO More Fashion Victims' and 'Pay Living Wage NOW' on front
and back, a design she has donated to War on Want for the anniversary of the
disaster saying "April 24th 2014 will be a huge moment in pushing
for a better fashion industry, and I’m backing War on Want’s efforts
to make real change happen.”
After a speech by Amin Haque about the disaster and its aftermath, the protesters
formed a human chain along Oxford St in front of GAP and stretching some way
down the street, before more speeches by Hamnett and others.
Staines & Wraysbury Walk
Staines, Middlesex. Mon 21 Apr 2014
Walks in this area tend to involve a lot of water
We decided to take a walk on the Bank Holiday, starting and finishing in
Staines. You don't get far from water here, with half a dozen rivers, several
large reservoirs and many gravel pits. There is considerably more water than
Though much of where we walked was in fields and woods, we were never far
from roads, the railway line to Windsor and the M25, the noise from which
was ever present.
For me the most interesting part of the walk was a short detour we made in
Wraysbury. I'd looked over the bridge at Hythe End and had a sudden memory
of many years earlier - perhaps 50 years ago, as in my memory at least my
long-dead oldest brother who died when I was around 20 was with me - of having
gone over a bridge further downstream. When we had walked a little towards
Staines, we came across Colne Way, and went down to see if the bridge was
still there. I think it was the same place. I don't think I've been down there
since, though I've often walked or ridden along the roads at either side.
Staines, Middlesex. Sun 20 Apr 2014
Early morning service in the Memorial Gardens facing
Around 7am I tumbled out of bed and made my way to the same riverside gardens
that had been crowded the previous day to watch the Staines Passion, taking
the Fuji X100 with me. At 7.30am there were rather fewer there for a short
Easter Morning Service, which was followed by a good breakfast at the Baptist
Church in Hale St.
Staines, Middlesex. Sat 19 Apr 2014
Roman soldiers prepare to put Christ on the cross in
Two open-air performances of The Staines Passion, a re-telling of the
gospel story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus produced by local
churches enthralled large crowds today in Staines.
The 90 minute drama was staged in the Riverside Gardens next to the Methodist
Church. With a cast of 60, it similar to the Wintershall 'Life of Christ'
which has been performed to large crowds in Trafalgar Square in recent years,
although the smaller Staines venue and the smaller scale perhaps made it a
more rewarding experience for those in the crowd.
The story loosely followed that set out in the St Matthew's gospel, begininning
with his entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, then a miracle in which Jesus cures
a crippled child, before going on to the overturning of the tables, and the
plotting against him by the religious establishment. Judas was bribed with
the 30 pieces of silver and the disciples met with Jesus for the Passover
meal - the Last Supper. After which Jesus prayed while the disciples and the
women slept, before Judas came to betray Jesus with a kiss and he was arrested,
after telling Peter to put away his sword and healing the soldier he had stabbed.
There followed the trial with Pontius Pilate offering the crowd a choice
of Jesus washing his hands, offering the crowd a choice of Jesus or Barabbas
to be freed, the crown of thorns and the crucifixion. Joseph of Arimathea
came to claim the body of the dead Jesus and it was put in the tomb, the doorway
then blocked by a stone.
Then came the women (two days later being only a minute or two, and they
almost arrived before the stone had mysteriously fallen aside, scaring away
the soldiers who were guardling the tomb.) While most of the women ran to
tell the disciples, Mary Magdalene remained and there followed a scene of
joyful (if un-Biblical) reunion between Jesus and her and the other disciples
and women before the final ending of the play.
Good Friday in Staines
Staines, Middlesex. Fri 18 Apr 2014
hymns druing the service in the Two Rivers shopping centre
The usual procession of witness by the churches in Staines was joined by
members of the cast of the Staines Passion, due to be performed the following
day, including Jesus, some of the Jewish women and four Roman soldiers. As
usual the procession was led by the Salvation Army band and made its way from
the Methodist Church and through the market in the High Street to the Two
Rivers shopping centre where there was a service with hymns, readings and
prayers and performances by the band and by a singing group from one of the
During the event some people carried baskets of free hot cross buns to give
out, along with leaflets inviting people to the free performances the following
day and to Easter services in the local churches.
G4S Occupied on Palestinian Prisoners Day
Victoria St, London. Thu 17 Apr 2014
Protesters with banners and a cage inside the foyer
of the building which houses G4S HQ offices.
A protest outside G4S London HQ against them providing security for prisons
where Palestinian men, women and children are held, often without trial or
charge and tortured expanded into a peaceful occupation of the office foyer.
British multinational G4S is the worlds largest security contractor and provides
security services for many prisons in Israel where Palestinian men, women
and children are tortured and caged. Many are held without trial or charge
and are often kept under appalling conditions. Children as young as 12 have
been held for up to 65 days in solitary confinement in small underground cells,
2m by 1m, with no windows, little ventilation and constant electric light.
In particular the protest drew attention to the urgent cases of Palestinian
sick detainees, "whose health is critical due to Israel's systematic
policy of medical negligence towards Palestinian political prisoners."
Prisoners are not provided with the basic essentials and the food is inadequate,
with prisoner's families being forced to pay for things such as clothing,
soap, toothbrushes etc.
It costs the famililies of each of the five boys from Hares around 125 Euros
a month to provide for their basic needs - and they have been in prison for
13 months waiting for a hearing in a military court over an incident in which
an illegal settler crashed into the back of an Israeli truck. The truck driver
had stopped to change a flat tire, but later it was claimed that the incident
had been caused by boys throwing stones. 50 Israeli soldiers stormed the village
in the early hours and violently arrested 19 children who were taken to the
Al Jalame prison, run by G4S. They were held in solitary confinement in the
windowless cells with not even a mattress for up to two weeks, taken out at
times for long sessions of interrogation and violent torture, and say that
sexual threats were made against female members of their families to force
them to confess to 25 counts of attempted murder (the number of stones alleged
to have been thrown in an event that never took place.)
If their cases ever come to court, their future remains bleak. The Israeli
NGO 'No Legal Frontiers' found after a twelve month study that the
Israeli military courts have a 100% record of conviction of Palestinian children
brought before them. As the Islamic Human Rights Commision comment: "If
the boys are convicted they will be locked up for over 25 years - five young
lives runied with no evidence of a crime let alone their guilt."
There were many more such harrowing stories on the detailed fliers that the
protesters were handing out on the streets, all implicating G4S in the detention
of the tortured Palestians.
Bill Gates end support of Israeli child torture
Cardinal Place, Victoria, London. Thu 17 Apr 2014
A protester in a Bill Gates mask - his foundation invest
in G4S which runs Israeli torture prisons
Protesters visited the UK offices of the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation
to hand in a petition against their investment in G4S, which runs prisons
in Israel where Palestinian men, women & children are held, often without
trial, and tortured.
Campaigners supporting Palestine met in the plaza outside Westminster Cathedral
for a 'mystery protest' on International Palestinian Prisoners Day, gathering
around a Palestinian flag. After a while a group arrived carrying some black
painted wood frames and rods which were slowly assembled to give a three-sided
'prison cell' and a number of photographic masks showing the face of Bill
A briefing told us that he target for the protest was to be the Europe and
Middle East Office of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in Portland
House, just across the road inside the Cardinal Place shopping centre, and
that we were there to deliver a petition from the Addameer Prisoner Support
and Human Rights Association with the following text:
"By holding shares in G4S, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
is complicit in Israel’s detention without trial and torture of Palestinians.
As people that share your belief that every life has equal value, we
call on you to divest from G4S immediately."
They point out that the purchase by the foundation of shares in G4S worth
$172m makes it one of the company's biggest shareholders, and that "through
its holdings in G4S, the Gates Foundation is legitimising and profiting from
Israel’s use of torture, mass incarceration and arbitrary arrest to
discourage Palestinians from opposing Israel’s apartheid policies."
They say the investment in G4S makes a mockery of the stated aims of the
Gates Foundation which says that it is "guided by the belief that
every life has equal value" and that it uses its investments to fund
projects that "help all people lead healthy, productive lives".
Security at Portland House appeared to have had some warning of the protest,
and stopped the protesters from entering the building, with a few who attempted
to do so being quickly ejected. One protester did manage to stop the door
being closed, and others soon joined her to ensure it was kept open and those
inside they foyer could hear what was happening outside.
The protest then continued outside the office building, with the protesters
speaking about the reasons they were there, along with some chanting and some
music. A prisoner posed in the cell and banners, placards and posters told
everyone around what the Gates Foundation was supporting. Repeated attempts
were made to contact the Foundation Office and persuade someone to come down
and accept the petition with several thousand signatures, with the protesters
promising to leave when they did so. A couple of police arrived and stood
inside the foyer with the security watching the protest.
The protesters had originally intended to move to another protest outside
the G4S offices a short distance down Victoria St starting at 4pm, and a few
went at that time, but most stayed waiting outside the Gates Foundation. They
were still waiting when I left to cover the protest at the G4S offices over
twenty minutes later.
End Hunger Fast Vigil against Food Poverty
Old Palace Yard, Westminster, London. Wed 16 Apr 2014
Keeping the flames alight in the stiff breeze was
On the day that 47 bishops and over 600 leaders from all major Christian
denominations called for urgent government action on food poverty, 'End Hunger
Fast' campaigners held a vigil outside Parliament, lighting candles and breaking
Around a hundred campaigners, most of whom were among the thousands who
made a stand against hunger in the UK by taking part in the April 4th 24 hour
day of fasting, praying and reflecting on the hunger in the one of the world's
richest countries came to the vigil.
Figures published today from the Trussell Trust, added to those
from several studies of independent food banks, show that one million food
parcels were handed out over the last year as the safety net for the poor
and vulnerable in Britain crumbles.
Workers in food banks are aware that many of those who need to use them do
so because of administrative failures in the benefits system, with many being
left without any support while benefits are recalculated or changed. Others
are forced to rely on food banks because their benefits are stopped as a punishment,
with 'sanctions' often being applied for trivial reasons or through misunderstandings
or failures in communication.
Speakers at the event included Trussell Trust Chair Chris Mould,
anti-poverty campaigner and blogger behind A Girl Called Jack, Jack Monroe,
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner who reminded us that this was also Passover,
and of the importance of food in the Jewish tradition and Keith Hebden,
the End Hunger Fast media spokesperson who is going without food for 40 days
and 40 nights to draw attention to food poverty, and stressed the importance
of getting politicians to take action on the issue.
During the event those present shared bread and held it in a minutes silence
before eating to reflect on the problem faced by those who cannot afford food.
They then lit candles (with some difficulty because a a stiff breeze) with
another period of silent contemplation before the final address from Hebden.
Barts cuts Health Advocacy & Interpreting
Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, London. Wed 16 Apr 2014
Mark Cubbon, Executive Director of Delivery with the
People from the many communities of Tower Hamlets and other East London
boroughs held a short rally at the Royal London Hospital before delivering
a petition calling on Barts Health trust to drop proposed cuts in advocacy
and interpreting services.
The group which came together to deliver the petition included a number of
GPs and other health professionals as well as members of various parts of
the BME community, including Somalis, Bangladeshis and Chinese. The Mayor
of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman sent his apologies and a representative to
express his support, and a Labour councillor gave support from the Labour
Those who spoke pointed out the great need for such services in a multiethnic
community of great deprivation and need. While the community is desperate
for an increase in these services, particularly for an ageing population many
of whom speak and understand little English but are now in much greater need
of health care, Barts Health propose cutting the salaries of skilled staff
through 'down-banding' and cutting face to face medical advocacy and interpreting.
The removeal of the services at GP surgeries and community and hospital services
would mean the loss of around 11 full-time Bengali/Sylheti Health Advocates
and the languages affected would include Somali, Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi, Tamil
The people who work in the community point out that communication is essential
to health care, and that taking away the means for this to occur will lead
to inappropriate treatments or a failure to treat serious conditions. Not
only will this lead to great suffering by the patients, but it is also likely
to result in waste and in expensive complications for the health system.
Barts Health has financial problems because of the huge PFI debt incurred
in the building of the sorely needed new hospital in front of which we were
meeting. But the debts to private finance and the repayments required are
so high that the trust has been unable to make full use of the hospital and
has cut other vital services in the attempt to pay them. As with other trusts
in similar dire positions, there needs to be some re-negotiation of the debt
by government, as these contracts have turned out to be far too favourable
to the lenders.
It had been agreed that a small group would take the petition to present
to a member of the management outside the main entrance, but those present
decided to go with them and see and hear what was said. Hospital security
staff made an attempt to stop them but it was unsuccesful, as were their attempts
to prevent photography of the event. The petition with 1850 signatures was
received by Mark Cubbon, Executive Director of Delivery who talked briefly
with the group handing over the petition.
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Panoramics
Stratford, London. Wed 16 Apr 2014
footbridge at the junction of the City Mill River and the Old River Lea has
lost its message''F**k Seb Coe'
Much of the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and surrounding areas
are now open to the public, and ten days after they opened I went along to
have a look. It wasn't perhaps ideal weather, sunny with a clear blue sky,
and it was quite crowded in some places as it was in the school holiday coming
up to Easter. The pictures are almost all panoramic, made with a horizontal
angle of view of around 146 degrees and cropped to an aspect ratio of 2.4:1
to allow some variation in the horizon level.
Arriving at Stratford Station I made the mistake of following the large signs
to the park - and got hopelessly lost, finding myself wandering around in
a bleak and empty space on the wrong side of Stratford Westfield, walking
past Stratford City Bus station north along Mountfichet Rd. Doubtless I'd
missed a sign somewhere that had told me to turn and walk through Westfield
and past all the shops.
Walking past vast empty sites and fenced off areas I came to Penny Brookes
St at the southern edge of the former athletes village and tried to make my
way to the new Victory Park, but every route I tried was blocked by fencing.
There is still a great deal of building work going on and many of what will
be entrances to the park are still closed. I made my way up Celebration Ave
and then along the very tedious Honour Lea Ave with fences or walls on either
side and no escape until I eventually came to its end and was finally in the
Later I tried to retrace my route on Google Streetview, which claims
to work on some streets in the area, but actually carries out what seems a
fairly random translocation to some varied London locations. All of them seemed
more interesting than the actual topography I had found myself facing on the
The park is not really a park as we know it, and it seems unlikely it will
ever grow into one. It gives the impression that as little has been spent
and done as possible post the Olympics and it largely remains a series of
routes to the Olympic stadium, ready for the mass tramping feet of West Ham
fans, though some might favour more direct routes. It is a complete contrast
to what might be expected of a new park for - and there is a good example
of one just a couple of miles away in Thames Barrier Park.
The one area of some interest is at the junction of the Old River Lea and
the City Mill River, just to the north of the Olympic stadium; the interest
there is concrete and steel with three bridges across the streams. Underneath,
the former Carpenters Lock appears to have been lost, with just a few vestiges
- though there were promises it would be restored. It was after all an interesting
design and quite scenic, as well as potentially useful for navigation.
But in the main the park appears to be a rather bleak area, enlivened occasionally
by the odd art work. Quite a contrast to the more exciting and much wilder
area before the Olympics - which you can see in my pictures in several places
on this site (eg here)
And although they have retained the footbridge across the head of the City
Mill River as you can see in the image above (though it is closed off), it
appears to have lost its famous graffiti 'F**k Seb Coe', a local
verdict it was hard not to share.
It's only possible to walk down the route of the footpaths that used to be
on the west bank of the Waterworks River and the east of the City Mill river
as far as the Loop Rd, just to the north of the main railway line, possibly
because of the continuing Crossrail works. The area around the stadium between
the City Mill River, the Old River Lea and the Navigation remains closed off
and there appeared to be no access to Old Ford. And the Pudding Mill River
has completely disappeared under the stadium.
From the Loop Road a path leads up to the Northern Outfall (Greenway) and
the ViewTube, which I think is a fluorescent yellow but is apparently officially
green. Pudding Mill Lane Station, where I waited for the DLR to take me towards
my next appointment was in its last week or two at the present location, about
to be moved to make way for Crossrail The last pictures I took before boading
the train were of the new station, the largest on the DLR, from the old (the
smallest, a single short platform and passing place on the single track line),
though I did take a few snaps out of the window of Crossrail work as we came
up to the navigation.
Somali Refugees mistreated in Kenya
Kenya High Commission, Portland Place, London. Sat 12 Apr 2014
Somalis hold up posters outside the High Commission
A protest was held at the Kenyan Embassy against the mistreatment of
Somali refugees at the Kasarani Concentration Camp in Kenya. The Somali community
in the UK call for the ICC to investigate the crimwa being committed there.
The treatment of Somalis in Kenya has shocked many in the the Horn of Africa
and in the Somali communities in countries around the world. A report from
Amnesty International says that the refugees are actively targeted by the
police with indiscriminate arrests. Many of them feel they have no option
but to return to Somalia where the ongoing conflict in parts of the country
continues to destroy lives.
Protests about the crimes against Somaalis in Kenya, particularly in the
Kasarani Concentration Camp have resulted in protests in London, Paris, Ottawa,
and Arab League capitals as well as in various citeies in the US. The protesters
want an immediate end to the violence and for the charges against Uhura Kenyata
for crimes against humanity hsould be invstigated.
Against the Electoral Masquerade in Algeria
Algerian Embassy, Riding House St, London. Sat 12 April 2014
Protesters say no to yet another term for President
A protest at the start of the Algerian Presidential elections condemned
them as a mere spectacle meant to maintain and cloak its authoritarian and
corrupt rule of Bouteflika, president since 1999, and called for a massive
The protest was called by the Algeria Solidarity Campaign which
is "more convinced than ever that the upcoming elections will be
neither free and fair, nor transparent. They will certainly not result in
the election of a legitimate President, representative of the wishes of the
They "call for a massive boycott and/or abstention from voting and
its full rejection of the 'Presidential poll', as it deems it to be a mere
spectacle meant to maintain and cloak its authoritarian and corrupt rule in
President Bouteflika has ruled Algeria since 1999 and is attempting to be
re-elected for a fourth term. Around 50 people protested at the embassy in
London, with a waste bin as a ballot box and a large and very creamy cake
with the Algerian flag on it. I ate a slice and it was delicious.
Don't Buy Sodastream at John Lewis
Oxford St, London. Sat 12 April 2014
Handing out 'Don't Buy Sodastream' postcards outside
Protesters handed out postcards outside John Lewis in Oxford St asking shoppers
to support freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians by not buying SodaStream
products which are made in illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.
The picket by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign is a regular event, every
fortnight across lunchtime on a Saturday, and is a part of world-wide protests
calling for a boycott of goods which are made in the illegally occupied settlements.
The protest is in support of the BDS campaign for a boycott, divestment and
sanctions called for by Palestinian civil society which appears to be having
an effect on both Sodastream and on Israel.
As the Financial Times commented recently, the "status of the settlements
is clear in international law even if Israel chooses to ignore this and expand
its colonisation of Palestinian land, while ostensibly negotiating on the
creation of a Palestinian state." Sodastream makes some of its dispencers
in Ma'ale Adumim, a large Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.
Trade with these illegal settlements is illegal under international law.
Recently Oxfam parted compiany with its ambassador actress Scarlett Johansson
after she became an ambassador for Sodastream. John Lewis and others who continue
to trade with companies that are based in the settlements - such as John Lewis
are in clear breach of the law.
Sodastream - and Johansson point out that they employ around 500 Palestinians
and claim that their enterprise promites peaceful coexistence between Arabs
and Jews. But Palestinians only work there because there are no other jobs.
A recent survey "found that 82 percent of Palestinians working in Israeli
settlements would quit those jobs if viable alternatives were available."
They aren't good jobs either, a former worker complained of having to work
12 or 13 hours a day, and most Palestinians are on renewable seasonal contracts
that last only three months each.
As the FT pointed out, "The way to create Palestinian jobs is to end
the occupation and let Palestinians build those foundations – not to
build “bridges to peace” on other people’s land without
their permission." Palestinian human rights legal researcher Elizabeth
Koek , quoted by Al Jazeera was quite clear thet "Neither the working
conditions, nor the pay of Palestinian workers employed in settlements negates
the illegality of the settlement enterprise." According to a former worker
there, most Palestinians working for Sodastream support the boycott "because
they are against [Israel's] occupation. But they cannot afford to personally
boycott work opportunities."
The boycott activities have dented Sodastream's business and the Israeli
economy. The Israeli government have responded by increasing its encouragment
for industries in the illegally occupied West BanK and trying to negotiate
a 'two state' settlement with the Palestinians that would enable Israel to
hold on to these areas. Sodastream has perhaps a more pragmatic response and
is trying to set up a new factory in Israel proper which would employ mainly
the local Arab Bedouin population.
By the time I left the picket outside John Lewis there were around a dozen
activists holding flags and handing out leaflets. Usually they have a large
banner showing the way that Palestine has dissappeared from a large state
in 1946 through various changes to the current small fragmented areas. There
is room for some argument about the details of these maps, but the general
pattern they show is beyone dispute. Before the establishment of the Israeli
state, in 1946, Palestinians (including Druze & Bedouins) owned 92% of
land, while Jews owned about 8%. The UN awarded Israel 54% of the land, though
a fairly large part of this was empty desert. In the 1948 war, Israel took
another 24%. In 1967 Israel occupied all of Palestine and with further settlements
and the building of the separation wall since then only the Gaza strip and
around 40% of the occupied West Bank is now under Palestinian control.
Bring Back Shaker Aamer Before He Dies
Parliament Square & Foreign Office, London. Wed 9 Apr 2014
Briefing for protesters in Parliament Square
Shaker Aamer, a Londoner still in Guantanamo despite having twice been
cleared for release, is close to death after years of continued mistreatment
and torture. A protest marched from Parliament to the Foreign office with
urgent letters to William Hague.
Shaker Aamer worked in London and has a wife and four children living here,
including one boy of twelve born shortly after his capture who he has never
seen. Sold by bandits to the US forces in Afghanistan where he was a charity
worker, he has been held in Guantanamo for over twelve years without charge
or trial. He has suffered harsh treatment and torture both in Afghanistan
and this has continued since his illegal rendition to Guantanamo to the present.
He was cleared to leave Guantanamo in 2007 and 2010 and has never been charged
with any offence. The UK Government has called for his release and return
to the UK as a matter of urgency, President Obama has pledged to close Guantanamo
but still there is no news of Shaker Aamer’s return.
News has reached the UK that Aamer is gravely ill due to his long-term treatment
by the prison guards at Guantanamo and the failure to provide proper medical
treatment. The campaigners took copies of a letter signed by many individuals
to Foreign Secretary William Hague. The letter acknowledged that
"requests for his release have been made by the UK Government,
by Shaker Aamer’s MP, Jane Ellison, and by thousands of people who
have written letters and signed petitions calling for Shaker’s release."
William Hague has previously written to Aamer in prison, and the letter continues:
"Your own letter to Shaker gave him renewed hope. It was a source
of comfort to him. You may know that it was later confiscated by the guards.
In June last year, Prime Minister David Cameron wrote to President Obama
to make it clear that 'we want him (Shaker Aamer) released and returned
to the UK as a matter of urgency.' "
Yet despite these requests, and the renewed pledge by President Obama in
his State of the Union speech on January 28th 2014, "this needs to be
the year that Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers
and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay." Aamer remains in Guantanamo.
Campaigners have long suspected that UK and US security services have conspired
together to ensure that he is either kept in Guantanamo until he dies or transferred
to his native Saudi Arabia where he would never see the light of day again.
The evidence that he could give about the torture at Bagram Air Base and in
Guantanamo would be damning and would certainly implicate British agents as
well as the US.
After around three-quarters of an hour protesting in Parliament Square opposite
the Houses of Parliament, where they were visited and encouraged by a visit
from John McDonnell MP, they marched in single file in their orange suits
and black hoods past the front of the Houses of Parliament and up Parliament
St to the Foreign Office in King Charles Street, where they formed a line
along the pavement edge. After some chanting there were a number of readings
from the prison writings of Shaker Aamer. I left before the letters were handed
in to an official from the Foreign Office for Mr Hague.
The protesters called for urgent action by the UK because of the acute sate
of Shaker Aamer's health. They want:
- a full debate on Shaker Aamer's plight to take place in Parliament
(the e-petition with 117,460 signatures should have led to this)
- a UK Government high level delegation to meet with President Obama in
- the UK Government to demand Shaker's immediate release and return to the
UK as a matter of urgency
- the UK Foreign Secretary to call in the US Ambassador to London to explain
the delay in releasing Shaker back to his family.
Unless William Hague acts quickly and decisively it may be too late.
'POP UP' Syrian Refugee Camp
Parliament Square, London. Wed 9 Apr 2014
Maria Gallastegui (centre) and another protester with their 'refugee camp'
at the start of the protest
Peace Strike organised a 'pop up' mock Syrian Refugee Camp opposite Parliament
in solidarity with the Syrian people with the message 'aid not arms'. UN estimates
are of over 6.5 million refugess in Syria and 2.5 million in surrounding couuntries.
Peace Strike, led by Maria Gallastegui had for several years a peace presence
in Parliament Square until May 2012 alongside Brian Haw's longer established
permanent Parliament Square Peace Protest.
Today's mock camp in the same location was there only for a few hours and
was intended to call attention to the suffering of the Syrian people, both
internally displaced refugees in Syria and those in camps in Lebanon, Turkey,
Jordon, Iraq, and Egypt. Many are without clean water and sanitation, living
in crowded, makeshift shelters. Diseases including cholera can easily spread
and medical services are inadequate.
Peace strike say:
- Arms companies supply weapons to kill predominantly civilians,
in other countries and make an obscene amount of money.
- The money for the weapons is unwittingly supplied by the taxpayer.
- Aid is then sent to these destroyed countries to 'help the victims'
This is the taxpayers money.
- Charities are then set up to help in the short fall of funds, again
this is the taxpayer.
- The ordinary person in the street unwittingly foots the bill to
make people they don't know and will probably never meet, suffer and be
killed, while making someone they don't know and will probably never meet,
- The time has come to peacefully decline.
They quote the UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres:
"I hope that those that have the most important responsibility in
world affairs will be able to understand that forgetting Syria will be a total
Wild Animal in Circuses ban
Downing St, London. Wed 9 Apr 2014
Left to Right: Stanley Johnson, Jim Dowd MP, Caroline
Lucas MP, ADI Chief Executive Jan Creamer, Peter Tatchell, John McDonnell
MP, Adrian Sanders MP with the 'signed' elephant outside Downing St..
Animal Defenders International took an elephant shaped letter to David
Cameron who promised them he would bring in a ban on wild animals in circuses.
Only two UK circuses still use wild animals and a ban could be in force by
He made the promise to the ADI deputation who had come to present an elephant-shaped
letter with signatures by many celebrities. In the delegation which was led
by former Conservative MEP and conservationist Stanley Johnson and social
justice campaigner Peter Tatchell were MPs Jim Dowd, Caroline Lucas, John
McDonnell and Adrian Sanders, and ADI Chief Executive Jan Creamer. Unfortunately
he left a minute or two before I arrived.
Vedanta Zambian Copper Scandal
Zambian High Commision, London. Wed 9 Apr 2014
found guilty in Zambia for poisoning water, causing birth deformities - haven't
paid the $2m fine
Foil Vedanta recently published a highly detailed report into copper
mining in Zambia under the title 'Copper Colonialism:Vedanta KCM and the copper
loot of Zambia' which suggested that the London listed company Vedanta's subisidiary
Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) which claimed to be making a loss in 2013, actually
made profits of $362 million.
Zambia has the world's richest copper deposits (alongside Congo) and the
country is the eighth largest producer of the metal. Copper exports make up
75% of its exports but only contributes 2% to the country's domestic revenue.
Vedanta are a UK registered company, listed on the London Stock Exchange,
although they may soon be delisted. FoilVedanta say that Chairman Anil Agarwal,
one of Britain's richest people, lives in a $20 million mansion in Mayfair,
London, but keeps his enormous profits from his 69% of Vedanta via a holding
company, Volcan Investments in the tax haven of the Bahamas, and avoids paying
Foil Vedanta came to protest at Zambia House, the Zambia High Commision in
Kensington this lunchtime, and handed over a copy of their report to the Deputy
High Commissioner . They called for Vedanta and the Zambian government to
release KCM’s annual reports, containing figures on profits and tax
payment, which are currently kept secret.
They suggest that the difference between the actual profits and those declared
in Zambia may be accounted for by "tax evasion scams such as transfer
mis-pricing (undervaluing exports) and under-declaring production."
They demanded an independent investigation into volumes of copper and cobalt
mined, processed and exported from KCM’s plants, and their direction
They also demand that Vedanta be forced to pay the fine of $2 million served
by Zambian courts in 2011 as compensation to 2000 claimants poisoned by major
pollution of the river Kafue in 2006, and stop ongoing spills affecting Chingola
residents. These cases are of particular concern to Foil Vedanta which is
"an independent grassroots solidarity organization focused primarily
on the FTSE 250 British-Indian mining giant Vedanta Resources PLC"
which links with "people’s movements where Vedanta is destroying
lives and devastating the land in India, Sri Lanka, Ireland, Zambia, Liberia,
South Africa and elsewhere."
Foil Vedanta also demand that KCM employees and former employees get proper
redundancy payments and that existing contract labourers are unionised.
Vedanta have claimed that the Foil Vedanta report is misleading and incorrect
but have so far failed to present any evidence to dispute the claims. Their
share prices dropped by a third during 2013, which Foil Vedanta say was largely
due to illegalities and local protests at Vedanta’s operations in India.
In Goa, Vedanta’s iron ore mines have been stopped for the past year
following revelations that they had exported 150 million tonnes of iron ore
in 2010/11 while only declaring their agreed export allowance of 7.6 million.
In Odisha, their Niyamgiri mine has been banned by the Ministry of Environment
and Forests due to local opposition, costing them $10 billion in lost investments,
and in Australia their Mount Lyell copper mine has been suspended following
a series of fatal accidents.
I had to leave shortly before the protest had been due to end and was unable
to be present for the handing over of the report which was filmed for Zambia
TV. A woman from the High Commision was also recording the event on her computer.
In Deepest Surrey
South Ascot. Mon 7 Apr 2014
If anyone really believes "We are all in this together"
rather than simply using it as a political slogan to cover up their own self-interest,
a short walk around South Ascot shoud soon convince them that it is a complete
nonsense. We may be in a period of austerity, but they are still building
mansions for the super-rich and many are still living in them in places such
as these in the 'Home Counties.'
Of course, even in areas such as this, not everyone is a millionaire, and
although those large houses set in their grounds occupy much of the space,
they will house a minority of the population. But although there are pleasant
walks through the woods it isn't an area I would want ot live in. Even if
I had the several millions to buy a house.
Occupy London General Meeting
St Paul's Cathedral, London.Sat 5 Apr 2014
People show their agreement with their hands
Occupy London returned to the steps of St Paul's Cathedral for another
of their periodic general meetings, attended by around a hundred activists.
I was late for the start of the general meeting and missed much of what had
been discussed. One of the issues that came up while I was there was whether
Occupy London should endorse the 'Tipping Point' statment on Climate Change.
It was a good example of how democracy works in Occupy. At first there seemed
to be pretty general agreement that the meeting should sign up to the statement,
but then a counter-view was raised, with a speaker suggesting that the issue
was more complex, and I think saying that a part of the climate change lobby
was backed by global capital, and that Occupy should give the matter proper
consideration at a later meeting. There was some more discussion, and eventually
he agreed that although he wanted to register his dissent, he would not block
the support for the statement. Another man then also spoke about his reservations,
and again after some discussion also decided he would not block, and a consensus
was thus reached that Occupy London would support the statement.
There was a chilly wind blowing around the steps of St Paul's making them
feel much like the steppes, and I rushed away as the meeting was finishing
for the warmth of a bus.
World Pillow Fight Day
Trafalgar Square, London. Sat 5 Apr 2014
Feathers were soon flying as pillows splirt
London's Mayor closed Trafalgar Square to avoid it being used for the
annual pillow fight on World Pillow Fight Day. The fight took place instead
around the edges of the square on on the very crowded North Terrace, while
the square remained empty.
I was surprised give the thousands who had turned up for the event that they
did not simply push down the barriers and take over the square, but the English
are perhaps in general too submissive to authority to take the action into
their own hands. The ban seemed a very petty response by the Mayor to an event
which gives a great many people an afernoon of relatively harmless fun, and
it was one which seemed to me to pose a much greater threat to public safety
than simply letting it go ahead.
There did also seem to be a much greater number of people present than in
previous years, though whether this was a direct response to the ban is hard
to say, though I rather hope so.
When I arrived a quarter of an hour before the fight was due to start, the
area was already packed, with some loud music being provided by the samba
band, London's famous 'Rhythms of Resistance.' More were arriving and tourists
were stopping to watch, and I think some going away to buy pilows to take
part. Quite a few people rather jumped the gun and there were already feathers
flying by the time the countdown to 3pm arrived, when total pandemonium broke
There are rules to the pillow fight, one of which is not to hit photographers,
but if no-one did so deliberately it was impossible to avoid the many being
wielded rather indiscriminately - but at least some who hit me did apologise.
And although there were a lot of people taking pictures, the area as still
full of people swinging pillows, even though much of the time there was hardly
room to swing a pillow.
Soon the air was full of feathers and dust, and breathing with your mouth
open became a problem, and eyes began to itch. I decided I'd had enough and
struggled my way through the press of bodies and out of the square, though
the fight was still proceeding pretty furiously.
This is probably the most enjoyable leisure event that takes place in Trafalgar
Square, and the feathers can't be that hard to clear up. So why did the authorities
try to stop it?
Axe the Bedroom Tax at One Hyde Park
One Hyde Park, London. Sat 5 Apr 2014
Paula Peters of DPAC was one of the speakers at the
A protest outside London's most expensive flats marked a year of the
grossly unfair bedroom tax. One Hyde Park's new luxury flats are owned largely
by foreign investors and mostly empty as investments in a city desperately
short of social housing.
The Bedroom tax is just one of many other government measure that hit people
on low incomes, a majority of them in low paid work as well as those on benefits.
The disabled in particular have been singled out for often totally disastrous
cuts, with now a long list of those who have been driven to suicide.
Today's protest was called by members of the Unite Community and other groups
including Taxpayers Against Poverty, DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts),
Fuel Poverty Action and various local London groups. A group of protesters
with banners and placards filled the rather narrow pavement along the edge
of Knightsbridge - behind them in the wider open area in front of One Hyde
Park still privately owned were a number of men in suits and ties and a few
police to protect the property of the rich.
A statement from one of the organisers explained:
On the anniversary of the Bedroom Tax and the other attacks to benefits
contained in the Welfare Reform Act, we will gather outside this venue,
where the 86 flats sell for up to £68 million pounds, only 8 residents
pay council tax, and many are owned by mysterious companies registered in
off-shore tax havens. We will register our disgust at the hypocrisy of current
welfare policy, and demonstrate that the real scroungers are the super-rich.
Londoners are being evicted because they are unable to pay the extra rent
imposed by the bedroom tax and are being offered the option of being re-housed
in Wales or Birmingham or Hastings or elsewhere, away from friends, families
and jobs. Many cannot be rehoused in London because there are simply no
available one-bedroom properties in social housing, and because rents in
the private sector are too high. For large families, private sector rents
are above those that will now be met by housing benefit.
Housing benefit has in any case proved a disaster, because of the housing
shortage in London. It has ended up being a subsidy for landlords, pushing
up rents to otherwise unaffordable levels. Even so-called 'affordable' housing,
at up to 80% of market rents is unaffordable for most.
Two groups that have been particularly badly hit by the various cuts are
the disabled and young people. The government is planning to abolish housing
benefit for young people, who are already treated unequally: they don't get
in-work tax credits, and get lower rates of unemployment benefit. Many have
been forced to work for nothing through workfare schemes and have no chance
of finding homes they can afford in London.
Many of the disabled have lost benefits through being found fit for work
- even where their disabilities make it exceedingly unlikely that any employer
would offer a job they were capable of doing. Many have lost vital support
for mobility and other services - and this has often meant they have had to
give up useful jobs they were able to do with this support. The closure of
the Remploy factories, set up specifically to give useful employment to disabled
workers threw them all out of a job, and relatively few have been able to
get jobs elsewhere.
A surprising number of the many motorists passing the protest at this busy
(and badly organised) junction hooted to show support and bus passengers waved
and raised fists.
There were speeches from a number of people, including Paula Peters of DPAC,
the Rev Paul Nicolson of Taxpayers Against Poverty, Green Party Leader Natalie
Bennett, Claire from Fuel Poverty Action and a former Remploy worker, as well
as several fron Unite Community. We then sang a number of songs with the help
of the Strawberry Theives Socialist Choir.
Muslims & Britain First Clash
Near Lebanese Embassy, Bayswater Road, London. Fri 4 Apr 2014
protesters speak out against arrests and attacks on Muslim scholars in Lebanon
A protest near the Lebanese embassy against the arrests of Sunni Islamic
activists and scholars including Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad in Tripoli and
North Lebanon was opposed by a small group from the far-right and pressure
group Britain First.
The Islamist protest was called by Anjem Choudary and took place on Bayswater
Road at Notting Hill, on the opposite side of the road close to the junction
with Kensington Palace Gardens. The Lebanese Embassy is in a private street
off this, in a well-guarded area where protests and photography are not allowed.
Only a handful of Muslim protesters had arrived when the protest was due
to start, but shortly afterwards there was a lot of shouting and a group of
two women in black niqabs, with a girl and a child in a buggy came down the
street, followed a short distance behind by two Muslim men, then a policeman
or two and a group of around ten men and a woman, several carrying Union Flags
and shouting "Muslim Terrorists, Off our streets!"
Police stopped this group of Britain First supporters, most of them wearing
green jackets with a Britain First badge, and pushed them into a protest pen
facing the larger pen for the Islamist protest.
There were some speeches from the Islamists about the arrests in Lebanon
which they say were carried out by the "Lebanese regime ... in order
to please Bashar Al-Asad’s murderous Syrian regime."
They say that the Lebanese security services under Abbas Ibrahim "ensure
that anyone who is wanted by the Syrian regime is arrested and sent back to
Syria to be tortured and possibly murdered etc… "
While Sunni Muslims who want to go and fight in Syria are arrested, they
point out that "the Shia Hizbollah can display thousands of their
members publicly and can openly carry their weapons in the streets" even
though Hizbollah is "killing Muslims in Syria and mutilating their bodies!"
While the speeches were taking place, Britain First maintained their shouting,
but they were heavily outnumbered by the Muslims who were perhaps by now approaching
a hundred, and at a great disadvantage with only a small megaphone against
the powerful loudspeakers - it was at times uncomfortable to stand near them
to take pictures. The Britain First protesters showed no interest in the events
in Lebanon the protest was against, but seemed simply to be opposed to the
Muslims who were protesting who they called terrorists and extremists.
There were a few minor scuffles between police and Britain First members
after they broke out of their pen and tried to run across the road; some at
least of these were provoked by Muslim men going across to shout at or argue
with them from a closer distance. Police stopped them and pushed them back
to the pen.
After an hour, Britain First packed up and walked away and I left too, as
the police had been making it impossible to photograph either protest sensibly
for the past quarter of an hour. Fortunately I had managed to take some pictures
before the police decided to be too obstructive.
Wave of Action
Trafalgar Square, London. Fri 4 Apr 2014
The Wave begins
The International 'Wave of Action' celebrating the Occupy movement and
continuing its mission had its UK launch today in Trafalgar Square, with plans
to continue this initial event at various locations around London until tomorrow
After meeting for a short rally in Trafalgar Square the 50 or so people present
formed a conga line to dance out of the square and along the Strand on their
way to St Paul's Cathedral where they hoped to meet others and hold another
rally. They then planned to move back west, going over the Millennium bridge
and stopping for a while at Jubilee Gardens and then moving on to Westminster
where some hoped to camp for the night.
I left them at Charing Cross to go to photograph in Notting Hill Gate.
Shut down Yarl's Wood
Home Office, Westminster, London. Thu 3 Apr 2014
with placards and banners from the Movement for Justice
Following the death of a heart attack of a woman held there given paracetamol
for her persistent chest pains and recent forced deportations, including that
of Yashika, a noisy protest at the Home Office called for Yarl's Wood to be
Christine Case, a 40-year-old Jamaican woman detained in the centre was allegedly
refused access to medical care by Serco staff when she complained of serious
chest pain over several days and was given paracetamol. She collapsed and
died there last Sunday.
Her case was raised in an urgent question in the House of Commons by shadow
home secretary Yvette Cooper and she was told that a full investigation was
taking place, though it seems unclear if this will also include evidence of
other cases where detainees have apparently been refused medical care.
The protesters were also incensed by deportations, including that of Mauritian
A-L evel Student Yashika on Wednesday, despite a petition with over 170,000
signatures calling for her to be allowed to finish her course, and Jackie
Nonyonjo who died shortly after being deported to Uganda last year.
The centre is run by contractor Serco, and there are many allegations of
abuse, including sexual abuse and the denial of human rights of women held
there. The protest was organised by the Movement for Justice who made six
1. We demand that Yarl's Wood detention centre is SHUT DOWN
2. A full Public Inquiry into the sexual and other forms of abuse at Yarl's
Wood Detention Centre.
3. Present and former detainees and their supporters must have the choice
to give evidence in public.
4. EVERY aspect of the system that makes the sexual abuse possible must
be exposed to public scrutiny. Nothing less is acceptable.
5. Present and former Yarl's Wood detainees MUST NOT BE DEPORTED. They
are ALL potential witnesses.
6. There must be NO reprisals or discrimination against anyone giving evidence.
Probation Officers Strike for Justice
Old Palace Yard, Westminster, London. Tue 1 Apr 2014
Robinson unwraps one of the birthday presents for Chris Grayling - 'The Book
Probation officers and lawyers protested together at Parliament against
plans to privatise probation and cut legal aid by Justice Minister Chris Grayling,
an April Fool, before taking a card and cake for his birthday to the Ministry
Mr Grayling was born on April 1st 1962 and was 52 today. Protesters at the
rally practised singing an alternative version of 'Happy Birthday', which
they later performed with gusto outside the Justice Ministry led by singer
Tom Robinson. The words to it were:
Happy birthday to you
You want justice for the few
No more justice for the many
Only justice for you
It was a well attended rally, with members of the National Association of
Probation Officers (NAPO) joined by lawyers from the London Criminal Courts
Solicitors Association and other supporters of the Justice Alliance.
The wide range of speakers against the moves to privatise probation included
two shadow ministers of justice, Andy Slaughter MP and Jenny Chapman MP, as
well as two other MPs, Ian Lavery and Jeremy Corbyn. Ill health prevented
John McDonnell from attending, but he sent a message of solidarity. Green
Party leader Natalie Bennett also spoke, and there were trade unionists including
Steve Gillan, the general secretary of the Prison Officers Association (and
a message of support from the TUC) and solicitors, and of course several probation
officers. The two final speeches were by Matt Foot of the Alliance for Justice,
followed by Ian Lawrence, General Secretary of NAPO.
After the rally there was a march to the Ministry of Justice, outside which
a large cake was produced with a tombstone at one end with the message 'RIP
Tom Robinson then led the singing of the alternative 'Happy Birthday' and
unwrapped a couple of presents for InJustice Minister Chris Grayling,
a packet of Skittles (as bought by Travon Martin) and a copy of 'The
Book Thief'. Grayling had just announced that he was to stop books being sent
to prisoners in UK jails.
A small group then delivered the birthday cake to the ministry.
Kurds protest at Rojava attacks
Parliament Square, London. Tue 1 Apr 2014
Activists wave the PJAK (Party of Free Life of Kurdistan)
flag at the protest
Kurds and Alevi protested in Parliament Square against the attacks on
Rojava (Western Kurdistan) by Al Queda and other forces fighting in Syria
which are aided by Turkey. The 40 million Kurds want justice and autonomy
for northern Syria.
The PJAK is allied to the better known PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) and both
support the Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan, still held in a Turkish
prison. The PJAK is involved in military action against Iranian government
forces in Iran, and the Iranian government supports Al Queda-linked forces
DWP & Atos Work Assessments
Dept of Work & Pensions, Westminster, London. Tue 1 Apr 2014
Several groups including DPAC, Winvisible and the Mental
Health Resistance Network took part in the picket
One of many protests around the country, a picket was held at the Department
of Work and Pensions HQ in Westminster for most of the afternoon demanding
that work capacity assessments be carried out by local GPs rather than IT
The protesters included Clare Glasman from Winvisible and Andy Greene of
DPAC as well as others from the disabled community and their supporters, including
from the Mental Health Resistance Network who successfully took the DWP to
court over the discrimination against people with mental health conditions
built in to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). The DWP lost their appeal
against the judgment but have so far defied the court in failing to address
There were a series of speeches, both about the general effects of the government
policies against the disabled and the opposition to them by disabled groups
and of their own personal experiences.
Many disabled people have died as a result of the tests conducted by Atos,
which are inadequate in their design but were also deliberately applied to
disadvantage claimants, with trick questions and falsification of responses
to meet targets. Atos got paid more for failing people than for conducting
the tests honestly.
The view of those who have suffered under these tests - which have driven
some to suicide and led to the starvation of others - is well expressed in
a spoof newspaper advert which claimed to be from the DWP:
"UK Government seeks heartless company and like minded individuals
to blindly follow orders, and carry out unrealistic and pointless tests
with a view to lowering disability figures to meet our targets. Perfect
job opportunity for unsympathetic bastards.
Conscience not necessary:
Please apply to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions/aka Minister
of Death, Mr Iain Duncan Smith..."
This was written shortly after Atos announced it was giving up the WCA contract,
citing assaults on its staff by disabled benefit claimants as a reason.
This claim has since been disproved by a DWP response to a freedom of information
request that stated of 1,678 security incidents recorded by Atos in 2013,
only five could be "easily identified as assaults on staff".
An Atos spokesman confirmed he was not aware of a single case in which criminal
charges were brought against a WCA claimant in 2013.
Although Atos has withdrawn from the WCA assessments (which are to be given
to another equally unreliable IT company) it is still involved in the assessments
of disabled people for the new PIP (personal independence payment.)
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