my london diary index


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Ditch the Deal say NHS Staff

Department of Health, London. Fri 13 Apr 2018

Jeremy Hunt looks pleased with himself on the screen as NHS workers protest in the Dept of Health foyer
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A group of NHS staff from hospitals across London briefly staged a token occupation of the foyer of the Department of Health in Victoria St to show their opposition to the proposed pay deal for all NHS staff except doctors, dentists and very senior managers.

Leaked information about the deal has caused widespread outrage, showing that for most staff it means a rise under predicted inflation over the three year period and will cut holiday entitlements. After sitting in the foyer for a short period they walked out for a group photograph on the pavement outside.

The deal also includes an appraisal process, which staff not at the top of their pay band must complete in order to progress to their next pay point. Both shadow chancellor John McDonnell and shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth have spoken out against the proposals and those protesting want all those involvede in the NHS to ditch the deal and take action for a satisfactory offer.
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Don't Bomb Syria protests

Downing St, London. Fri 13 Apr 2018
A crowd blocks Whitehall outside Downing St and shouts at Theresa May not to bomb Syria
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Stop the War and Syrians protested at Downing St calling for Theresea May to stop her plans to bomb Syria with the USA and France following the reports of a chemical weapon attack there.

Stop the War went across to Downing St and tried to hand in a letter signed by MPs, trade unionists and others. But to get through security you need to apply several days in advance, and only Emma Dent Coad as an MP could enter to take the letter in.

Stop the War held a rally on the opposite side of Whitehall until 6pm, with speeches from Stop the War activists, aslong wityh Kate Hudson of CND and Ben Griffin of Veterans for Peace. Most of those present had expected a larger protest with a wider range of speakers, and stayed on after the end. Noisy chanting continued and there were a few short speeches using a PA system which people from Inminds Palestinian Prisoners Campaign had brought along after their protest on the SOuth Bank.

Syrians had appllied for permission to protest at 6pm, but although a number of them had come earlier and had joined in the Stop the War protest, the people leading their protest had not yet arrived.

Most of those present crossed the road to protest outside Downing St before blocking both carriageways of Whitehall. After some minutes police pushed the protesters on the southbound carriageway back onto the pavement including the Syrian surgeon who had got their permission to protest and wanted to do so on the street rather than on the pavement. Police had other ideas and eventually forced him and the others onto the pavement where the Syrian rally continued.

People were still sitting and blocking traffic on the other carriageway when I left, but police reinforcements had arrived and it looked as if the road would soon be cleared.
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Palestinian Prisoners Day protest

South Bank, London. Fri 13 Apr 2018
A campaigner holds a tall pole flying two large Palestinian flags
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A vigil on the South Bank of the River Thames on Palestinian Prisoners Day highlights the plight of the roughly 6,500 Palestinians currently in Israeli jails, around 350 of them children.

The protesters included several Palestinians and were joined by an anti-zionist ultra-orthodox Jew. Their display included an actual size drawing of an Israeli underground prison cell in which children are held in isolation as well as several banners and a series of posters detailing the involvment of HP in maintaining the apartheid regime.

The protesters handed out leaflets and talked with those walking by, and speeches gave facts about the prisoners. In two months this year alone 1319 were imprisoned, including 274 children, 23 women and four journalists. Over 500 of these prisoners are currently held indefinitely without charge or trial under administrative detention orders. Physical torture during interrogation is standard practice, even for children, and many are sexually abused; since 1967, 72 prisoners have been tortured to death.

As a part of the Israeli 'apartheid' system, Palestinians are not tried by the Israeli civil courts but by military tribunals with a 99.74% conviction rate. Since 1967, roughly 1 in 5 of the entire Palestinian population have been held in prison at some time.

The protest, organised by Inminds human rights group, called for a boycott of Israeli goods and of companies including HP who are complicit by supplying the IT infrastructure which runs the Israeli prisons and torture dens.
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Great March of Return - Stop the Killing

Downing St, London. Sat 7 Apr 2018
Around 2000 protesters packed the area opposite Downing St
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A protest at Downing St condemned the shooting by Israeli snipers of peaceful unarmed Palestinian protesters on the first day of a peaceful protest, the Great March of Return, at the separation wall in Gaza on Land Day, 30th March.

Live fire by the Israeli army on Land Day killed 17 and wounded over 750 unarmed protesters. A further nine Palestinians including one journalist were killed yesterday and 1,350 injured, around 400 by live fire, with around 25 in a critical condition. The protests continue every Friday until Nakba Day on May 15th.

There were many speeches condemning the Israeli killings, calling for an end to the siege of Gaza and for peace and a just settlement implementing the UN resolution allowing refugees to return to their homes and for the UK government to condemn the Israeli actions.

The only MP to speak was from Sinn Fein, and Baroness Jenny Tonge the only representative of the Lords (in her speech she asked any MPs or Lords to raise their hands - and none were raised) but messages of support were read from Jeremy Corbyn and Caroline Lucas. With parliament in recess for Easter many MPs will have been on holiday, but it seems more likely that it was the threat of being accused of anti-semitism that kept more away as we are now living in a situation where any criticism of Israel or support for Palestine gets pounced on by a small but vocal group and magnified by the media.

There was a small group of right-wing extremists just a few yards along Whitehall - I counted six when I visited them briefly - waving Israeli flags and shouting slogans in support of the shootings and against Hamas, but they were simply ignored - probably few in the large crowd at the protest heard or saw them.

There were many Jews at the protest, some wearing the badge of Jewish Voice for Labour, others supporters of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and other groups, some just individuals wanting to show their shame at the actions of the Israeli government. A speaker from Jewdas recited a prayer for peace in Hebrew and then in English translation, and Glen Secker of JVL spoke.

At the end of the protest the names of those murdered last week were read out and there was a two minute silence honouring them. The London protest was organised by the Friends of Al-Aqsa, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Palestinian Forum in Britain and Stop the War, and supported by EuroPal, Olive and Muslim Association of Britain.
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Lea Valley Walk

Harpenden to Hatfield, Herts. Wed 4 Apr 2018

Stone bridge across The Broadwater (the River Lea) at Brocket Park - James Paine 1772-4 Grade II* listed
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With some of my family I walked from Harpenden to Hatfield, more or less following the published Lea Valley Walk, with some minor diversions.

We had planned to do this walk a couple of weeks ago, but cancelled it twice because of bad weather. Wednesday the forecast wasn't hopeful, but it turned out to be rather better, with only one short period of heavy rain, though much of the time it was overcast with the occasional spit of rain.

It's around a mile from Harpenden station to the path which starts beside the River Lea and then goes a little up a hillside and for a kilometer or so along a former railway bed, before diverting up a hillside and through fields to Wheathampstead. The path was waymarked in places and mainly follows public footpaths.

We spent some time in Wheathampsted Church, and I sat on a seat and ate my sandwiches in the churchyard, finishing them just as it started to rain more seriously. I took a little walk around the centre of the town (or village) in the only heavy rain we saw while the others stayed in the church. The footpath goes on close to the river, but most of the bank is private, owned by angling clubs, and the river meanders sometimes a couple of hundred metres distant. At Waterend a Roman Road crosses the Lea, with a shallow ford, which we walked through, though there is a footbridge, but the path stays on the north bank, so we walked back. It starts on the river bank but soon departs from it and is at times out of sight.

Another short diversion took us back to the river to admire the Flint Bridge, and unusual structure, inside which we sheltered for a few minutes from another shower before returning to to path which climbs steeply up a hill and on to a golf course. There appeared to be only one solitary golfer on the course, just walking back to his car as we made our way across, so there were no balls to avoid.

The path here goes past Brocket Hall, a Grade I-listed classical country house built around 1760, notable mainly for its size. But the estate was laid out to provide a suitable location for a grand house, with a dam making the the river here into a wide lake 'The Broadwater', and across this a Grade II* listed Palladian bridge from 1772-4. The grounds are now two golf courses, the second added by the current lessees.

Brocket Hall gained some notoriety when owned by the Lamb family, with Lady Caroline Lamb, the wife of Lord Melbourne but better known for her affair with Lord Byron, organised a state banquet for her husband's birthday in which she was served naked in a large silver tureen. In 1923 the estate was bought brewery owner Sir Charles Nall-Cain who was made Baron Brocket ten years later. His son, the second Baron was a Nazi sympathiser and was interned in the Second World War and the house was taken over as a maternity hospital. The third Baron Brocket leased the estate to the Club Corporation of Asia on a long lease until at least 2050while he was serving a prison sentence for insurance fraud. They converted the house into a conference centre and laid out the second golf course.

There is a good view from the footpath of the bridge across the lake, but we decided to make a detour to get a closer view, taking another footpath to rejoin the Lea Walk just before reaching Lemsford Mill. It's hard to see why this is not the official route. There appears to be no truth behind the story that this is the old mill often sung about by cliched drunks, and Nellie Dean, if she existed, was almost certainly American rather than from Hertfordshire.

The route goes across fields to the Great North Road, meeting it close to the bridge over the Lea. Our guides (one a first edition and the other recently bought) both then show the route going straight across this and then under the A1(M) to Stanborough Park, but the approved route apparently now diverts down the Great North Road. There is still a sign (rather hidden) on the opposite side where the path meets the road for the old route, and we followed this. There are some short steep muddy slopes, with the remains of some steps to get to the bottom of the bridge under the motorway, and the path leading under this is in places covered by water. It wasn't very deep, but enough to just go over the edges of the low boots I was wearing.

But if you can, it's better to go this way and walk through the north end of Stanborough Park than along the road, and you can walk close to the river for much of the way, following it under the main road to get to the southern part of the park before turning off at the end of the lake to go to a bridge under the railway line. The walk down past Woodhall farm is rather boring, and leads to the A1000, where we walked to a bus stop for a bus to St Albans. Altogether, with a little wandering in places, we'd covered around ten miles which was enough for me.
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CND At 60 at Aldermaston

Aldermaston, Berkshire. Sun 1 Apr 2018
Rebecca Johnson holds up a copy of the UN treaty banning nuclear weapons
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CND celebrated the 60th anniversary of the first Aldermaston march which mobilised thousands against the Bomb and shaped radical protest for generations with a rally at the main gate of the now privatised Atomic Weapons Establishment.

Their protest outside the Atomic Weapons Establishment included a giant version of their name and iconic peace symbol, speeches, including by some of those on the original march, singing and drumming and it celebrated the UN treaty banning nuclear weapons, finalised last year and signed by 122 nations, for which ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, of which CND is a part was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Among the speakers was Rebecca Johnson of CND and ICAN who held up a copy of the treaty and the replica of the Nobel award and urged everyone to keep up the pressure on the UK government to sign the treaty, pointing out that past governments had professed support for multilateral nuclear disarmament such as this treaty, and that Britain's nuclear expertise would give opportunities for greater earnings from disarmament than from bomb-making. Walter Wolfgang, now in his 90s, and one of the organisers of the first Aldermaston march, spoke as did a woman who had been taken on it by her parents, while veteran peace campaigner Bruce Kent recalled how he had cursed it as a young cleric in Kensington as it blocked the road for several hours and disrupted the schedule of four weddings he was conducting, going on to tell us of his conversion to nuclear disarmament not long afterwards. Antony Owen told us of his experiences speaking with those who survived the Nagasaki bomb and read two poems from his book 'The Nagasaki Elder' which had many of us listening in tears. Music came from the samba band Tribo and the Welsh socialist choir Côr Cochion.

At the end of the event faith groups held a vigil and people pinned doves with peace messages to the AWE security fence. The campaign continues to get the UK and other nuclear nations to ratify the UN treaty and reap the benefits of peace and employment from getting rid of its nuclear weapons.

Fortunately despite some days of bad weather leading up to the event and terrible forecasts for the following week, it was a fine day, mild for the time of year and with no wind, but some reasonable periods of sun, considerably better than had been predicted, and my bike ride from Reading station and back (12 miles each way) was a pleasant one.


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