Monthly Archives: December 2013

Heads they win, tails we lose

Politics today is discredited for very good reasons. Once politicians get into office they are immediately bombarded with offers from lobbyists as soon as they walk through the door of our “democratic” parliament. Directorships are on offer for them and their families. so whose tune will they dance to then? Not yours and mine, but those of the big powerful corporations that have a handle on all parties in Westminster. Very few resist. George Monbiot likens them to glove puppets on the right and left hand.

With privatisation of everything our national wealth, gained from the efforts of all of us, are handed out to the few for profit, win or lose, effective or poor service – most usually the latter. So while we froze or nearly drowned this Christmas when the lights went out for many the very companies hiking their charges failed us but still ended up with largesse paying the Chief Executive millions. Why? If ever there was an argument for re-nationalisation of our utilities this must be it.

The Independent “exclusive” cited above began by being a main headline, although the editor placed the story of a celeb., Michael Schumacher’s skiing accident above. Both were then replaced by the news of a mile-long train blowing up in Dakota in the USA. Another illustration of how people and safety are relegated in the bid for never ending wealth but only for the few. The question is begged that while it is reported there were no injuries, will the people escape the clouds of toxic gases released!?

Over in the Guardian, Polly Toynbee is also reminding us about “useless” politicians and their spectacular breaking of promises they made to get elected. It’s our fault that we put them there and then let them off the hook she says.

As for the New Year we learn that G4S, a spectacular failure in 2013, is to have its contracts extended in the prison service in spite of declarations to the contrary, and the small problem of the outstanding fraud investigation into G4S and Serco. We need to know which of our politicians have personal interests in them and their ilk.

Companies charged with organising Government “services” like G4S, Servo and ATOS are allowed oversight of the poor and the vulnerable. It takes us back centuries and archaic views of how this group, as defined by the powerful, require management. The companies are typically huge operating internationally. Typically they will be operating offshore and minimising their tax commitments. The view that it is the economically inactive – including the elderly – who are the drain on society is overturned. It is these wealthy organisations, cosseted by governments and politicians, that are the true parasites

2014 is high time for a fundamental rethink of priorities.

Sports centre in Handsworth up for asset transfer

Once upon a time when we lived in a fairly civilised society we had a wooden hut which served as changing facilities for a range of sporting activities. The hut was available to us in the community, With Ernie in charge it was made available when needed. From 1990 onwards the ward changed from being represented by Tory councillors it transformed in three years to having three Labour councillors with the largest majority in Birmingham. After elections we would return to Laurel Road to tune into the election results late into the night.

One day came the news of a fire. Our precious centre had burned down due to an electrical fault in a drinks machine. What would happen to the site. We wrote letters to Pepsi-cola, or whoever owned the drinks dispenser to see if they would help sponsor a rebuild. Eventually we learned that we would get a new building which we were asked to comment on. I remember we were told we couldn’t have a clock tower (don’t remember anyone asking!) Sports England came on board to help out and gave us funding for upgrading the facilities including a climbing wall (instead of the clock tower I suppose).

On the downside Ernie disappeared to look after another centre nearby. African Caribbean himself he was popular with local youth and could reach out to young people with excellent results. The centre became managed with a new staff. We could hire the building for meetings but it had to be cleared by 9.00pm.

Last Wednesday a large group of people assembled at Hamstead Hall School from the Handsworth Against the Cuts Campaign with banners and songs led by Dave Rogers of Banner Theatre. Laurel Road was a candidate for asset transfer. It was the Handsworth Wood Ward Committee meeting at which the three Labour councillors were present. A request had been made for Laurel Road to be an agenda item. This had not happened but I suppose because of the size of the protest group discussion was grudgingly allowed. We were promised that our views would be taken back to the City Council. The councillors said they were on our side, but in view of the draconian cuts in funding there was little they felt could be done.

The question remains why the Labour Party, now in control, acquieces to everything thrown at it. Handsworth Wood Ward may have continued with its Tory representation. The question is whether the three Labour Councillors oppose the transfer of assets and privatisation. The sad fact is that they do having openly supported first Academies and then Free Schools. While Labour brought in academies their stance of Free Schools has been oppositional. At least of two of the Councillors actively supported Free Schools in Handsworth set up by the Nishkam Centre. Do these councillors not understand that asset transfer and privatisation is the handing over of public money for the purpose of making the now private assets profitable to an unaccountable group of people? How will they support us when they believe in asset transfer etc?

What kind of society is this? What kind do we want as jailed woman left to clear up after miscarriage?

Pauline Campbell campaigned against the imprisonment of women and would turn up outside prisons to tell the van drivers to take the women to a place of safety. I don’t know whether even she encountered anything approaching what is alleged to have happened at HMP Peterborough, a privatised prison, after a pregnant woman was arrested in November. She had stolen food to the value of around £13.00 in desperation the court was told. When she miscarried the child she was carrying she was required to clear up while the foetus remained in the cell. It is said she had mental health problems. The company commissioned to run the prison is Sodexo, not one of the well known corporations that have their fingers in every pie possible. They say they run “ethical” services in a number of countries. They are involved in handful across the UK. They declioned to comment on this case.

There’s “No Health Without Mental Health” proclaimed this government trumpeting that they would be the first to ensure parity of treatment with physical illness. When we see the incidence of mental health issues in our jails alarm bells should be ringing in the highest places, with men 14 times more likely to have problems. With women it is THIRTY FIVE times. What are people like 37 year old Nadine Wright doing there in the first place?

No light went out with Mandela, it continues to shine ever brighter

I have a picture on my mantlepiece showing Nelson Mandela leaving the International Convention Centre in Birmingham during his visit to the UK in 1993. He had just spoken to a packed hall for two hours, without notes, and it seemed as if he was just holding a conversation with us. It certainly didn’t seem like two hours and those present would have willingly stayed another two or more to hear what he had to say to us. As the car left I positioned myself to salute him which he acknowledged with a smile and wave. He made everyone he came across, it seems, feel important, and as we have seen the people of South Africa are celebrating his life which brought them not only freedom but a knowledge of who they are. This feeling of course extends not only across Africa but the whole world.

One of the first to pay a tribute to Mandela in Birmingham was Rev Jesse Jackson. He is no stranger to Birmingham and Handsworth, home to a significant African Caribbean community. When former Councillor Phillip Murphy made a request for Nelson Mandela to come to Handsworth the response was that it would be impossible given his tight and exhausting schedule. When ANC contacts let it be known that such a visit had been requested he insisted on meeting them early that morning.

Tributes to Mandela continue to pour in across the world, including from the Israeli government who continue to uphold their own apartheid regime between Arab and Jew. Palestinian tributes were countered by the Israeli army using their accustomed violence.

Food Aid Britain

Hunger is a major issue in Britain. Food poverty added to fuel poverty add up to a threat to life in a wealthy nation where its leaders have more pressing priorities. The dismantling of a welfare state and redistributing wealth to an already overfed elite.

Food is something we can take control of and grow our own – as happened in war time. Havana in Cuba, struggling from an embargo imposed by its mighty imperial neighbour, has created a means of helping to feed its population. Havana can provide for about 50% of its population. Which other city in the world could approach anything like that? If we ask how many of its population of around 1 million could Birmingham in the UK support a target of 10% would seem daunting. Yet a sizeable number of people demand allotments and use leisure time to cultivate food for themselves. Rules for allotments, set years ago, do not allow for a system which, as in Cuba, brings about a market where food grown is sold to the community at affordable prices.

Much is happening at the Uplands Allotment in Handsworth, Birmingham UK to enhance urban living. They note that fruit is lefty to rot on trees in gardens across the city. THeir response is an urban harvest where volunteers will collect the fruit. They have introduced bees to ensure the fertility of crops.

On the other hand big business has other ideas claiming that it has the solution the world hunger. This involves the seizure of land displacing peasant farmers, many of whom committed suicide, and introducing genetically modified crops. Food is a commodity to produce maximum profit.

Food waste is a huge issue with about half of that expensively produced wasted. Supermarket chains have become aware with some produce, just a little, ending up in food banks. Much of this is tinned and processed so does not provide the healthy nutrition that the growing number of people with families need to keep healthy. THe potential cost to society and its services is enormous. Yet a poor country like Cuba can keep its population healthy and educated. What can we learn?