Monthly Archives: May 2011

RIP Gil Scott-Heron

I just found out that one of my heroes, Gil Scott-Heron died yesterday in a New York hospital.  He was 62. Gil Scott-Heron was a poet,  novelist and a political activist. He first came to public attention in 1970 through his song The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. According to CNN, the song was banned by several radio stations in the US.

In recent years, Scott-Heron fought drug addiction and served prison sentences in 2001 and 2007 for drug possession. In 2008, he admitted to having contracted HIV. However Nowhere Towers prefers to remember him as a giant among men. An outstanding poet who never lost his razor-sharp wit. This is our tribute to him.

B Movie

Whitey on the Moon

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Filed under Music, Society & culture

Those Cycle Superhighways – aren’t they brilliant? Not really

I was walking along Whitechapel High Street the other day and I noticed that the vast majority of motorists tended to ignore the blue-painted cycle lanes on the road. Any novice urban cyclist would have been put off by the sight of cars, buses, coaches and lorries encroaching into, what is supposed to be, a space reserved for cyclists.

Here a minibus encroaches the cycle lane, while the bendy bus in the far distance blocks it completely.

Here a coach completely blocks the cycle superhighway.

If these new blue cycle lanes aren’t properly enforced, they may as well not be there. I’ve always thought the Cycle Superhighway was a complete waste of money and here is the proof.

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Filed under Cycling, London, Tower Hamlets

Work versus Blogging. Guess which one wins?

There won’t be  many blogs over the coming weeks as I am busy working on other projects that demand my full attention. Normal service will be resumed in the next couple of weeks.

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The Rally for Cuts – a poor show

Rally Against the Poor?

It was billed as the “Rally Against Debt”. It was supposed to be a response to the TUC sponsored March for the Alternative at the end of March.  The rally was organized by UKIP, the Libertarian Party UK, The Freedom Association and the Taxpayers Alliance – the usual suspects.  Out of morbid curiousity, I decided to go along. The RAD’s Facebook event page had 1,908 intending to go.  I suspect the numbers will be much, much lower. To get an idea of what sort of numbers I might realistically expect, I checked the LibertarianUK forums. The numbers are small. Some of them make excuses for why they can’t  go. This one is the most pathetic.

Re: Rally Against debt

Postby Agalloch » Thu May 12, 2011 9:29 am
I wanted to… but I really can’t afford it, sorry. Car is no problem, but I’d rather not drive to london, and Train means Hoter to be honest.

The commitment is underwhelming. Those who took part in the massive TUC March for the Alternative had coaches organised well in advance. These people appear to travel individually in their own cars.

Before I set off, I check the BBC News Channel. Matthew Sinclair from the Taxpayers Alliance is repeating the line about “saddling our kids with debt”. It’s intended to appeal to our parental instincts but if these people were really so concerned about our kids, they would do more to protect the environment and spend more time thinking about society and less about themselves.

The reports that I get before I arrive at Westminster tell me that the turnout is low. As I arrive at Old Palace Yard, I can easily see that there aren’t many people. They’re corralled behind a set of pedestrian barriers and there is only a handful of police. It’s an odd location for a rally and two things come to mind: first, no anti-cuts protest would be allowed this close to the Houses of Parliament and second, the RAD is only expecting small numbers. But the numbers tell us something: there is no appetite for cuts and those who advocate “faster, deeper” cuts are in a tiny minority. For all the libertarian rhetoric, these ‘protesters’ actually support the state in what’s it’s doing in terms of deficit reduction. Therefore this isn’t a protest, it’s a rally to urge the government to cut more.

There aren’t many counter-demonstrators here save for this pair of ‘anarchists’ corralled behind some barriers. The thought had crossed my mind that this could be a RAD stunt.

Self-described anarchists penned in for their 'own good'

Most of the placards are facing the towards the focal point, which is the statue of George V, where there is a speaker, whom I cannot see or hear, addressing the crowd. The sound is terrible and seasoned protesters understand how to use public address systems. The organizers have signally failed to grasp this important point. I decide to take a seat on some steps of an adjacent building. A pair of right libertarians sit next to me and have a smoke. I can tell they’re right libertarians: their shoes and their corduroy trousers betray them. On the far side of the rally I can see a placard that reads “Ban Union Pilgrims”. Don’t ask. It looks like some kind of in-joke. In fact, there is an absence of real humour to any of the placards.

I move away from the steps and make way into the corral and stand at the rear of the rally. A bloke in an Atlanta Braves baseball cap sees that I’m wearing a similar cap and says “Snap”! I say “Hey, the Atlanta Braves” and leave it at that. I don’t want to engage these people in conversation. I’m not in the mood for it. I catch a glimpse of James Delingpole through a small gap in the crowd. I think he’s just finished speaking.  I see some more placards.  “Ban Unions” says one. Another says “Cut Foreign Aid”. By far the weirdest is “Cut the Debt. Read Ayn Rand”. I don’t get it. Is it supposed to be a joke?

I walk around the right flank of the crowd and see BBC London’s Paraig O’Brien who’s looking for a place to shoot a report. He tells me that he’s going to be “moving back and forth long this pavement”. I tell him “Help yourself, mate”.  Like I care what he does.

It’s about 1230 and the rally looks like it’s finished. These people have no staying power. Am I surprised? Quite frankly, no.

I circulate as best I can, looking for any familiar faces. I think I can see the blogger who calls himself “Old Holborn”. He’s wearing a Guy Fawkes costume.  His beergut is struggling to escape through his obscenely tight top. Guy Fawkes, eh? How ironic. To my left, I can see that Nigel Farage is about to leave. He stops to chat to what looks like a UKIP supporter.

Farage talks to supporter

Before I can say anything to Farage he slides off in the direction of Parliament Square. I overhear a couple of people talk about picketing the Fabian Conference. Good luck. If you people can’t organize a rally, what makes you think you can picket a meeting?

It’s just after 1pm, I leave and make my way to Victoria Street to get a coffee and find somewhere to use the loo. As I’m walking away from the rally, I think of how haphazardly it was organized. The words “piss up” and “brewery” spring to mind and these people run the country? No wonder things are the way they are. They even forgot that today is the day of the FA Cup Final but something tells me that this isn’t a crowd that likes their football. The Guardian informs us that there were 350 at the rally. I have to say it didn’t look like that to me.  It looked more like a mere 150. But even if there were 350 at the rally, it’s only a small fraction of people who support the cuts or want them to go deeper.

This was really a small gathering of like-minded souls that are united by a sense of imagined injustice. Above all, they hate public services or, for that matter, anything to do with communities. If they really want to live in a country without public services, they can always go and live in Somalia.

This one's off to the pub

Sinclair  claimed that they were a “quiet majority”. On the basis of these numbers, I’d say he was talking out of his arse.

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It’s as though Shirley Porter and the 1980s never went away

Shirley Porter: she still hasn’t paid up

It was 1986, the Tories had narrowly won Westminster City Council in the local elections. I know, it’s hard to believe it but that’s what happened. Labour did well by narrowly winning a three seats and the SDP (spits) were a major threat to the Tories in another couple of seats. To prevent this from ever happening again, Porter and her council colleagues devised a plan to gerrymander  marginal wards and those wards that had gone to Labour. The plan, euphemistically titled “Building Stable Communities”, was to sell off properties when tenants vacated them. The council also removed many homeless voters from the borough because they were less likely to vote Conservative.

Porter also sold off 3 cemeteries for 5p each. The Council bought them back in 2006.

Across the Thames in Wandsworth there was similar picture. Wandsworth under the leadership of Paul Beresford,was accused of  illegally selling off void properties in tower blocks that were located in marginal wards.

The district auditor’s inquiry found “a relatively high correlation” between housing expenditure and the five most marginal wards in Wandsworth between 1987-88 and 1990-91 – the period when the Conservatives turned a one-seat majority into one of 35 in the 1990 local authority elections.

Beresford escaped punishment but the District Auditor  found Porter guilty of wilful misconduct. Porter, her deputy David Weeks, one other councillor and a few council officials were made jointly liable for repaying £36m. However Porter was liable for the lion’s share of the sum and along with surcharges and interest, she owed around £37m. She filed a series of unsuccessful appeals but she fled the country and later resurfaced in Israel.

From the relative safety of Israel, she transferred the majority of her assets to her son.

She then claimed her wealth extended to just £300,000, though estimates put her fortune at £69m. The council failed to pursue her. But a subsequent investigation proved she moved millions of pounds to her son via a complex web of companies.

In 2004, she and the council agreed she would pay £12.3m, but Labour councillors at Westminster have pressed district auditor Les Kidner to reopen the case in a bid to force her to pay up the full fine. Councillors are aghast that investigators failed to spot the Porter family connection with Telos.

Porter lives in Westminster in a £1.5m property but is still at large.

Fast forward to the present day. Westminster City Council is still run by the Tories and council housing and homelessness are back in the headlines.  In March of this year, the council proposed to ban night-time soup kitchens for the homeless. They claimed, without any evidence to support their assertions, that soup kitchens and the like are responsible for perpetuating homelessness. Conservative Angela Harvey said,

“When you see 50 to 80 people waiting for a soup run, they are not homeless people by and large.

“The majority will not be rough sleepers… you see them going off with large carrier bags stuffed full of food which is for them and their house mates. We know they are in work and housed.”

But she and the Council has failed to provide evidence for his wild assertion that people who are not homeless simply “take advantage” of soup kitchens. It’s a tall tale.

Westminster also wants increased powers  to raise council rents. They propose to increase rent in line with any increase in a tenant’s income. Yesterday, Tory Philippa Roe told the BBC that, “we (the Council) think that it would be fair for those households to pay a little bit more so we can recycle that money, either to help the most vulnerable families or to keep rents down for vulnerable people on low, fixed incomes”.  Notice how the word “vulnerable” is being used here to suggest that council housing is a form of welfare. It is not. The Council claims that there are around 2000 people living in council housing that are earning more than £50,000 a year. Councils don’t know how much their tenants earn unless they’re claiming Housing Benefit, so it’s difficult to see where Westminster gets its figures from. I suspect that the figure is entirely made up. The Labour group leader, Paul Dimoldenberg told Inside Housing,

‘Putting up rents is just another way for the Conservatives to increase taxes for middle earners and will push many hard-working residents out of Westminster.

‘Why are they attacking hard-working residents, the backbone of the community?’

Travel through the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and you come to Hammersmith & Fulham, where the council has proposed to demolish hundreds of homes on the Gibbs Green and West Kensington Estates to make way for a new development that will include ‘affordable housing’. This ‘regeneration’ scheme forms part of the Earl’s Court redevelopment. They have also proposed to demolish the White City and Queen Caroline Estates. H&F council call their plan for council homes demolition “Decent Neighbourhoods”. The programme was detailed in the unresearched report titled “Principles for Social Housing Reform”.

It’s as though Shirley Porter and the 1980s never went away.

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Filed under Conservative Party, Hammersmith & Fulham, London, Westminster City Council

My Coalition verdict: What a shower

The title of this blog is borrowed from a series of similar blog titles in yesterday’s  Torygraph.  As you’d expect, all of them heap praise on their Tory brethren and pour scorn on their Lib Dem coalition partners. None of them claim that the coalition is a “shower”, though clearly many of them wish the Tories had an unassailable majority. But we don’t always get what we want in life, do we? The coalition has been in place for one year and in that year, it has waged war on the poor, the unemployed, the low-waged, the disabled, students and anyone who does not fit into their vision of the perfect society. In fact the word “society” has been absent from their minds as they pursue an ideologically-driven agenda of cuts.

The way in which the coalition parties have used the excuse of the structural deficit to push through cuts has been dishonest. In fact, this coalition government finds it difficult to be consistent. First, it talks about the national debt, then it talks about budget and structural deficits and tries to erroneously compare these things – as Thatcher did – with household finances. They tell us that “Britain’s credit card is maxed out” . Rubbish. The country doesn’t have a “credit card” and it can still raise money on the international bond markets. In spite of what the Con-Dem government and their allies tell us, Britain is far from being broke. There is money in this country but it’s all concentrated in the hands of a small number of people.

The sad truth is that the vast majority of the public haven’t got a clue when it comes to deficits and debts and the government use this ignorance to their advantage. This dishonesty is reproduced by the Telegraph’s bloggers, who are all keen to impress upon us the need to accept reductions in public spending, which the government tries to present as either ‘localism’ or ’empowerment’.

If they want to talk about household finances, perhaps they could start dealing with stagnating wages and the ever-rising cost of living. Britain’s household debt is higher than it’s ever been, yet the government seems quite happy for this situation to continue. At the beginning of this year, the rate of VAT was increased from 17.5% to 20%, which has meant that many things have increased in price – including food which, although free of VAT, is subject to VAT through production and distribution costs.

Education has been area where the Tories have sought to make their mark.  While paying lip service to the idea of education for all, they’ve been pushing forward their divisive idea for free schools. Free schools, in spite of what their supporters and this government tells us, sucks funding away from existing schools.  In Further and Higher Education, they’ve caused the biggest stink by scrapping the Educational Maintenance Allowance and imposing swingeing cuts on universities, which has prompted many universities to raise their tuition fees to the higher level of £9,000 per annum. The curriculum is also about to be colonized by ideology.  The subject of history is going to be rewritten to serve the narrow interests of the state. The revisionist historian, Niall Ferguson has been asked to devise a new history syllabus that will focus on such things as the greatness of empire. In many of the post-1992 universities, arts, humanities and social science courses are being cut because they are seen to be ‘soft’. However the real reason for cutting social sciences and humanities courses is because they teach critical thinking. Say hello to “by-rote” learning.

The Tories have also been keen to misrepresent social housing in their efforts to claim that

  1. All social tenants are  ‘scroungers’
  2. Council housing is a drain on the nation’s finances
  3.  Social housing is “state” housing and
  4. It’s a form of welfare.

Their flagship councils, who have been emboldened by having their party in government, have each made attacks on council tenants.  Westminster City Council wants to raise tenants’ rents if their incomes increase. Hammersmith and Fulham Council have threatened West Kensington and the Gibbs Green estates with bulldozers as part of their ‘redevelopment’ plans for the area around the Earl’s Court complex. The Queen Caroline Estate in the Broadway ward has also been targeted. The word that is often used in conjunction with these plans is “vulnerable”. These two councils claim, as the government does, that social housing should be for the “most vulnerable”. So who qualifies as “vulnerable” and what happens to those people once they have ceased to be “vulnerable”? Will they be evicted after a couple of years?

Let’s look at another of the more common misrepresentations.  Early in their administration, the Tories claimed that there were millions lost through “widespread benefit overpayments”. It turned out that the numbers had been vastly inflated and the amount of money was only dwarfed by the amount lost to the exchequer through tax evasion and avoidance. While those of us on lower incomes have no choice but to pay tax, those people who earn the most find ways to wriggle out of paying it.

It’s time for a look at some of those Telegraph blogs. Here’s one from the Great Lord of Darkness that’s titled  “My Coalition verdict: Iain Duncan Smith scores high, Vince Cable scores low”

The once respected Vince Cable, now an object of derision, scores zero, while Ed Miliband gets 2 out of 10 and must work harder.

There’s only one problem: Miliband isn’t in the coalition, so why mention him?

Ed West also has a pop at Cable.

Biggest loser: Either of the two leading rattle-throwers, Vince Cable and Chris Huhne, who are going to destroy their party because they overestimate the size of their political constituency. “Progressives” comprise a fairly small portion of the British public, and even within the Left are outnumbered by Blue Labour social conservatives and Jack Straw-style authoritarians. They could probably all fit inside Chris Huhne’s living rooms.

Super-Catholic, Cristina Odone can’t resist the sitting duck either.

Biggest Loser: Vince Cable. Energy Minister Chris Huhne may resign from government, but no one really liked him much in the first place. Vince, instead, was the nation’s darling for his purported knowledge of the economy (his book The Storm was a best seller), charmingly romantic Desert Island disc performance, and his fancy footwork on Strictly Come Dancing. Then he  blew it, boasting about his importance to the Coalition. He now looks like a foolish, self-important old man who seems as out of touch with his colleagues as with the public that once cherished him. Sad.

I won’t bother quoting the rest because they all plough the same dull furrow.

The coalition started badly. In the space of 15 days it suffered its first ministerial scandal and resignation when crypto-Tory, David Laws was forced to hand his portfolio to the equally worthless, Danny Alexander.  Today, Laws has been suspended from the Commons for breaching parliamentary rules. He won’t be returning to government any time soon.

The Telegraph says,

He is expected to be ordered to apologise to Parliament and pay back tens of thousands of pounds after an investigation that resulted from a Daily Telegraph report last year.

It is the most serious punishment imposed on any parliamentarian by fellow MPs following the expenses scandal and is likely to block any return to government for Mr Laws.

The Prime Minister had hoped that Mr Laws, who was popular among Conservatives as well as Liberal Democrats, would return to the cabinet soon, but this has now been ruled out.

Ironically it was the Telegraph that broke the Laws expenses story. For someone with a great deal of personal wealth, why did he feel the need to cheat the taxpayer out of over £40,000? One word: arrogance.

It’s hard to see how this coalition can last another 4 years when the Conservatives are trying to find ways to divorce their partners. The Tories’ allies,  the bloggers and commentators at the Torygraph,  spend a great deal of time sticking pins into their Lib Dem voodoo dolls. With these kinds of tensions, it is only a matter of time before the coalition collapses and in the aftermath of the Lib Dems drubbing in the English local elections and their obliteration in Scotland, this can’t come soon enough.

Paddy Power is offering the following odds on the year of the next general election:

2011                  7/2

2012                  5/2

2013                   10/3

2014                   5/1

2015 or later  6/4

Those look like pretty good odds.  I’m almost tempted to have a punt.

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UEL – lobbying the Board of Governors

Vice Chancellor, Patrick McGhee on his way to the Board of Governor's meeting

Yesterday we lobbied UEL’s Board of Governors ahead of their meeting. A group of  staff and students from the soon-to-be dismantled School of Social Sciences gathered outside the Knowledge Dock on the Docklands campus to let the Board know our feelings towards the proposed restructuring contained in the White Paper. As I have reported in a previous blog, the restructuring dismembering of the school falls into line with the Government’s objectives to limit the provision of arts, humanities and social sciences courses at post-1992 universities and to transform them into McEducation-style institutions that offer the same courses.

As you can see from the image, Prof. McGhee took the direct route into the Knowledge Dock and was lobbied by the protesters.  However while Mark Hannam, the board’s deputy chair was listening to our concerns, Prof. Joughin took the heaven-sent opportunity to sneak around the left flank of the group and creep into the building. He was carrying what appeared to be a very large file.

It was good of Mr Hannam to listen to our concerns but whether or not he and the rest of the board can act against the decisions of Joughin remains to be seen.

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Filed under Cuts, Education, Education, Government & politics, Higher Education, London, Society & culture