Category Archives: uncategorized
. . . which are not delayed, cancelled or prematurely terminated
Rail union leaders, politicians and passengers are demonstrating today outside stations including London King’s Cross, Cardiff, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Leeds, Norwich and Birmingham as rail fares for the country’s unreliable rail service increase. It is reported that rail fares will increase by an average of 3.1% today, despite punctuality falling to a 13-year low.
The Labour Party is calling for prices to be frozen on the worst-performing routes
Widely quoted Labour research findings are that fares have risen nearly three times faster than wages. Examples of changes to annual season ticket prices include:
:: Brighton → London increasing £148 to £4,844
:: Gloucester → Birmingham increasing £130 to £4,238
:: Manchester → Liverpool increasing £100 to £3,252
Analysis by the Press Association – source not given – has shown that one in seven trains was delayed by at least five minutes in 2018 – the worst performance since September 2005. As Wolmar wrote in August, “Barely a day goes by without another nightmare rail tale . . .” – many relating to scheduled services cancelled by Northern Rail because of disruptions to the ‘new’ timetable introduced in May.
New Year cheer: new carriages and wifi – but no reference to reliability & affordability,
On Radio 4’s Today programme, transport minister Chris Grayling cheerfully promised passengers new trains with more seats, improved accessibility, mobile phone charging points, wifi and air conditioning. The Rail Delivery Group is calling this the “biggest introduction of new trains in decades”. Between now and 2021, 7,000 new vehicles will be introduced by train companies.
Critics of nationalisation should be reminded that Britain’s railways are already state owned
- Germany’s Deutsche Bahn owns Arriva, operates Chiltern, Cross Country, Wales & Borders, London Overground and Grand Central.
- Italy’s Trenitalianow runs Essex Thameside
- French state firm SNCF owns Keolis, which runs numerous franchises in joint ventures. As part of Govia, with Go-Ahead, it operates Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern, Southeastern and London Midland; with Amey it runs the Docklands Light Railway.
- Dutch state rail owns Abellio, wruns ScotRail and Greater Anglia, and Merseyrail.
- China Hong Kong state owns MTR, which holds the South West Trains franchise with First. MTR will also run Crossrail.
- Eurostar is owned by France’s SCNF.
- Heathrow Express is owned by Spain’s Ferrovial, with some investment from ADI Finance 2 Ltd – directors from Spain, Qatar, USA & UK.k
And even right-wing newspapers who had supported the privatisation of rail now regularly report the dramatic failures of the current system.
There have been twelve general articles about whistleblowing on this site, focussing on brave individuals who suffered for revealing unwelcome truths, including Paul Moore (former HBOS banker), Dr Raj Mattu, Julian Assange, Ian Foxley, Peter Gardiner, Bradley Manning, Osita Mba, Jerry Bryzan and the Glaxo 4.
Earlier in the century, before the site was set up, there were health sector whistleblowers; Marta Andreasen & Paul van Buitenen also revealed shocking cases of EU financial mismanagement and suffered for it.
In May this year Reuters reported that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman ordered protection for employees who report financial and administrative corruption.
A month earlier the European Commission launched a proposal for a directive to protect whistleblowers. MEP Molly Scott Cato writes:
“Without the patriotism of Shahmir Sanni we couldn’t know that two cabinet ministers are implicated in a breach of the funding rules by the Vote Leave campaign. If it weren’t for the courage of Chris Wylie we’d be ignorant on how data was stolen from Facebook and used to manipulate people’s inner fears in a way that probably turned the Brexit vote. Without the Panama Papers exposing how Nawaz Sharif embezzled public money and gave it to his children to buy posh flats in London, he might still be Prime Minister of Pakistan”.
Green Party MEPS advocate including a requirement to impose the burden of proof on the organisations whose data has been revealed rather than on whistleblowers themselves. It should be for the company or public body to show that the leak or disclosure was not of public importance.
As the UK prepares to leave the EU the issue of protection it will offer those disclosing information in the public interest is being debated. Some argue for a National Office for the whistleblower with statutory powers to oversee all regulatory bodies dealing with cases of whistleblowing and offer protection, advise and support to those blowing the whistle.
Ms Scott Cato ends:
“Whistleblowers are the people’s champions defending all of us from corrupting forces. No wonder the rich and powerful fear whistleblower protection. They also defend democracy by uncovering secrecy and exposing information that has led to a breakdown of trust between democratic representatives and those who vote for them.
“They deserve not just our gratitude but also the strongest possible legal protection available”.
Molly Scott Cato MEP is Green MEP for the South West and a member of the European Parliament’s special committee on financial crimes, tax evasion and tax avoidance.
In a recent Birmingham Press article, Beauchampé opens:
“Five friends have told me recently that they have either stopped – or severely curtailed – how much BBC news and current affairs output they digest.
“All were once avid consumers of such content, none could be described as being on the extremes of political thinking, none would claim that the Corporation is guilty of ‘fake’ news, and none have turned instead to social media or become keyboard warriors or internet trolls to get their views across. They are, in their different ways, frustrated at the BBC’s failure to adequately reflect their own political beliefs and the lack of balanced debate on issues that matter to them. And they are irritated at some of the Corporation’s presentational tropes and the cheapening of the discourse that often accompanies it”.
“I never felt this way about our national broadcaster. They have always been my ‘Go To’ media outlet for gaining an understanding and appreciation of world affairs. I’ve used – and contributed to – numerous alternative sources but none to the extent that I have with the BBC. Sure the Corporation wasn’t faultless, it wasn’t always as impartial and independent as I would have wished and it sometimes employed journalists whose reporting and approach to interviewing greatly annoyed me.
“But things have changed, and one issue above all has lead me to question my primary allegiance to the BBC’s news and current affairs output. It is the coverage of the Labour Party and anti-semitism”.
“I have never been a Labour Party member and have no intention of becoming one. But I voted Labour for the first time in thirty years at the 2017 General Election because the social democratic policies they offered resonated with me in a way that the centrist stance of New Labour never did. However, I do not regard Jeremy Corbyn as some Messianic figure (although he is a hugely important part of early 21st century UK political history) and there is no guarantee that I will vote Labour at any future election. But I cannot recall a senior politician so vilified as Jeremy Corbyn, nor one so slandered, slurred and libelled, so smeared, so wilfully misconstrued and lied about, so despised, so… so hated.
“It has been thus since his unexpected rise to prominence in mid-2015, but when it comes to the issue of anti-Semitism then the BBC’s reporting of both Corbyn and the Labour Party has taken things off the scale. The Corporation has been a crucial and extremely willing player in the debate yet in almost every measurable way they have shown immense bias and a failure to investigate and hold to account Corbyn’s critics.
“Since early spring – if not longer – the BBC has given the issue copious coverage, likely dwarfed only by that allocated to Brexit. Phrases such as: ‘It’s a problem that just won’t go away’ and: ‘Why can’t Labour seem to get over this?’ are endlessly and lazily repeated to the backdrop of a lack of understanding of the issue from those asking the questions, or insightful analysis from those answering them.
“Repeatedly the tenure and tone of BBC interviews, the terminology of its reportage, have been heavily slanted against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, with air time skewed towards the same coterie of MPs and Jewish community leaders the who consistently rail against the Labour leader and his allies. Corbyn’s opponents habitually receive sympathetic interviews, presenters offering them up free hits devoid of the level of intense scrutiny that those who support the NEC/Corbyn stance are always subjected to.
“Corbyn’s critics are simply never challenged over their refusal to acknowledge the party leadership’s attempts at rapprochement or why their language towards Corbyn is always confrontational. Factual inaccuracies pass unchallenged – or are even introduced by interviewers – and quotes taken out of context and myths are allowed to become cemented as truths. Whilst it is hard to disagree that Corbyn’s handling of the issue has left much to be desired, you don’t have to be a Jeremy Corbyn supporter to be alarmed at this lack of objectivity.
“This is especially important when most UK national newspapers and their online versions are so virulently anti-Labour (and particularly anti-Corbyn) and have long since exempted themselves from much that resembles the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in their coverage of the story. Yet the BBC slavishly reports both the headlines and editorial stances of these papers, using the ‘expertise’ of their journalists and political commentators on news and current affairs programmes, helping to skew the narrative and fuel the story, arguably beyond the level which it merits.
“Not that anyone should dispute that racism towards the Jewish community has been an issue for the Labour Party, or that it did not increase substantially in the wake of Corbyn’s election as leader. With a membership numbering around 550,000, including many who share Corbyn’s lifelong support for the Palestinian cause, we should not be surprised that some have proved incapable of distinguishing between legitimate criticism of Israel and unacceptable attacks on Jewish communities.
“But the true extent and nature of the problem is harder to judge. When pro-Corbyn Labour activists are given air time (or if one reads their online message boards) there is an overwhelming view that the media grossly exaggerate the scale of the issue, that a range of extensive and effective steps have been taken by the party hierarchy, that self-policing and calling out of racist comments by members are further impacting on the matter. Meanwhile, the numbers facing disciplinary action is comfortably under 300, which maybe helps put the size of the problem into perspective.
“Some (perhaps many) of these cases might prove to involve appalling, indefensible behaviour. But those that have been highlighted, the ones that meet with such untrammelled outrage by Corbyn’s critics both inside and out-with the Labour Party, seem largely to fall somewhere between the use of clumsy language or behaviour (usually hastily retracted and apologised for), or historical actions in support of the Palestinian cause which suddenly now engender seemingly tenuous claims of being anti-semitic.
“The BBC has let us down badly with its coverage of the issue, and it continues to do so even on the day that I write this”.
It is hard to ascertain a true understanding of what is going on, and whether Jeremy Corbyn’s most trenchant critics are motivated by anything other than genuine concern about racism against the Jewish community, when the BBC has failed to delve below the surface or ask basic questions. The Corporation has been keen to treat the issue with great significance. Sadly, it has consistently failed to imbue its coverage with the unerring impartiality and quality of journalism that such a profile deserves and its charter demands.
And if they can’t do that, then who can any of us turn to when all we want is an even-handed and balanced account of such a major news story?
As Birmingham City council managers spend £12million on consultants to tell them how to merge the service with NHS services in 2019/20, they propose to save a mere £2million at the expense of care workers’ working conditions.
Social care, home care, community care, is needed by the young disabled, post-operative patients, and frail elders. Dave Prentis (Unison) reported earlier this year that after seven years of austerity the social care workforce in Birmingham has fallen from 7,000 to just 2,000.
Birmingham City Council has 280 staff working for the ‘enablement service’ which helps vulnerable and elderly people regain their independence at home after a spell in hospital.
They are in dispute with council over new working patterns and are threatened with redundancy unless they conform.
They wanted undertakings that there would be:
- no compulsory redundancies,
- a joint management and union working party to develop the service
- and the withdrawal of a rota proposal that involves triple split shifts, leaving workers effectively on duty from 7am – 10pm, because the two hourly gaps between shift – after travelling – would rarely allow them any useful time at home
Full timers will given a choice of taking reduced hours, taking redundancy or moving to another job within the city council.
Labour council cabinet member for health and social care, Paulette Hamilton, said the service is currently very inefficient – a management responsibility:
- staff spend 40% of their time away from patients,
- and only 20% of clients are independent after receiving the service.
But unions, workers and others fear that the measures proposed will be inhumane and unworkable.
Though the government is responsible for these and so many other cuts to the lowest paid, Birmingham City Council managers appear to be squandering £12 on ‘advice’ from highly paid consultants, whilst saving a mere £2m by imposing poorer conditions on those who do the actual work.
The latest march and strike rally to defend the Homecare service will be held next Saturday 15th September 12 noon in Victoria Square, Birmingham. http://www.birminghamunison.co.uk/news.aspx/New-home-care-strike-and-protest
After a year of disasters (documented in detail here), the reinsurance industry travelled to Monte Carlo for its annual get together (8-14 September).
Hurricane Irma was accompanied last year by Hurricanes Harvey and Maria, along with earthquakes in Mexico and wildfires in California. In all, there was $136bn of insured losses from natural and man-made catastrophes in 2017 according to Swiss Re, the third highest on record.
A report, “Climate Change and the Insurance Industry: Taking Action as Risk Managers and Investors”, was written by Maryam Golnaraghi, Director, Extreme Events and Climate Risk research programme for The Geneva Association, which is described as the industry’s leading thinktank.
It notes that following the adoption of the Paris Agreement, there has been a burst of initiatives and activities across a wide range of stakeholders to support the transition to a low-carbon economy (mitigation side).
Latest developments include:
- growing but highly fragmented and in some cases conflicting climate policy and regulatory frameworks at national to local levels and across regions;
- innovation in clean and green technologies, with some gaining market share;
- rising interest in green financing, with efforts to reduce barriers to green investment on the part of shareholders, asset managers, standard-setting bodies and rating agencies, and growing demand for low-carbon commodities.
As well as building financial resilience to extreme events and other physical risks by providing risk information, improving distribution channels and payout mechanisms, Ms Golnaraghi reports that the insurance industry is supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy through its underwriting business, investment strategies and active reduction of its carbon footprint.
There is no reference to this support in the FT’s report of the insurance industry’s response to escalating disasters, summarised as:
- ‘a wave of merger and acquisition activity’ as insurers and reinsurers reconsider their business models,
- some are ‘bulking up’,
- others have decided to get out.
Reinsurance companies should call for immediate greenhouse gas mitigation efforts, as climate change continues to progress and extreme weather is becoming more frequent and dangerous and heed the Environmental Defense Fund warning that if these are not ramped up, last year’s unprecedented disasters may soon become the norm.
Conservative commentator: ‘Cosying up to big donors’ is not a ‘good look’: many a true word spoken in jest
In the Times today, Tim Montgomerie, co-founder of the Centre for Social Justice and creator of the Conservative Home website warns: “Tories must beware cosying up to big donors . . . the dependence of the party on chief executive chequebooks is bad politics and makes it vulnerable to populist entryism”
He cites the persistence of Jeremy Corbyn’s support despite the media onslaught, commenting that voters who are desperate for a new economic settlement seem (bewilderingly) willing to forgive or at least overlook (alleged) weaknesses that would have been electorally fatal until recently.
He points out the surge in revenue from Labour’s half a million or so members, which means that the party is getting almost as much money from individuals as it receives from the unions and continues: “The Tories enjoy no such diverse spread of funding”.
While “Corbyn’s coffers” were filled with £16 million of funds from individual supporters, the 124,000 Tory members contributed less than £1 million to their party’s treasury. Over £7 million came from ‘high-net-worth donors’ and big gifts came from dining clubs, at which rich individuals are able to sit down with Mrs May and other cabinet ministers. Montgomerie continues:
“Chasing high rollers has at times led the party to become entangled with former associates of Vladimir Putin. That is not a good look”.
Mrs May’s successor and the nation’s prime minister will be chosen by party members but Montgomerie sees the danger of ‘entryism’. Arron Banks, the businessman who financed Nigel Farage’s Brexit campaign has launched a drive to recruit 50,000 Ukip-inclined supporters to join the Tories.
The support for capitalism is not what it was and deservedly so
Montgomerie advocates building a broad and diverse membership which understands that things are different from the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher reaped great political rewards from being close to the nation’s wealth-creators:
- The banks have paid an estimated £71 billion in fines, legal fees and compensation since the 2008 crash.
- Inflated house prices owe much to the power of a few major builders to restrict the supply of new homes.
- The service of some privatised railway companies is poor.
- The pay awards enjoyed by many leading chief executives are unjustifiable.
He adds that the Tory mission today should be the protection of the “little guy” from any concentration of power, whether in commerce, media or the state
He comments “There are some signs that the government gets this”; the apprenticeship levy for example, which is attempting to address “the decades-long failure of British industry to invest in the skills of their workforces”.
Montgomerie concludes that British politics is not corrupt but distorted
By accepting funding and spending so much time with donors from the City and with property developers, the Tories are in danger of being held back from building an agenda that is less southern and more focused on consumer empowerment than producer privilege.
He and his ilk are incapable of understanding the persistence of Jeremy Corbyn’s support despite the media onslaught. Those voters who are ‘desperate for a new economic settlement’ also recognise the character of the man, whose policies are based on justice, not perceived electoral advantage.
The last word is given to Andrew Scattergood (FBU) who sees more clearly than Montomerie: “Jeremy Corbyn has, since first elected as leader, established himself as by far Labour’s best leader, perhaps since Keir Hardie, representing the aims and values of the vast majority of the party membership”.
Media 92: anti-Corbyn campaign – manipulated readers of the Times, Financial Times, Telegraph, Sun, Daily Mail etc, read and reflect
Elite power cannot abide a serious challenge to its established position. That is what Labour under Jeremy Corbyn represents to the Tory government, the corporate, financial and banking sectors, and the ‘mainstream’ media.
The manufactured ‘antisemitism crisis’ is the last throw of the dice for those desperate to prevent a progressive politician taking power in the UK: a politician who supports:
- genuine peace in the Middle East,
- a strong National Health Service
- a secure Welfare State,
- a properly-funded education system,
- an economy in which people matter
And who rejects endless war and complicity with oppressive, ‘allies’, such as the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Arms exports and trade are increasingly profitable to British corporations doing business with Israel. Senior government ministers have emphasised that the UK-Israel relationship is the ‘cornerstone of so much of what we do in the Middle East’ and that ‘Israel is an important strategic partner for the UK’
For shared elite interests in Israel and the UK, there is much at stake
Historian and foreign policy analyst Mark Curtis highlights ‘the raw truth’ rarely touched by the corporate news media, pointing out that the UK’s relationship with Israel is special in at least nine areas, including:
- arms sales,
- air force,
- nuclear deployment,
- intelligence and trade.
The media is dependent on advertising revenue.
Curtis continues: “In short (and to simplify) the media is a sub-department of business and is structured by its imperatives. This happens in two ways. The first is its structural dependence on advertising revenue. Looked at in simple, institutional terms, the bread and butter of a newspaper company is not selling newspapers but selling readers to advertisers. That’s why newspapers can be given away and why news websites hate ad-blocking”.
David Traynier agrees: “The media is largely the corporate media — not an independent power centre but one largely subordinated to big business”.
Firmly rejecting the general idea that a socialist party simply needs to manage the press better, he stresses that the corporate media is not there to be won over, it can’t be “managed” into giving Corbyn a fair hearing. And in response to those who cite Blair’s easier ‘ride’ he points out: “New Labour’s real success was not to win over business but to capitulate to it.
“A genuinely socialist party can make no such concessions, which is why a cellar-full of Krug won’t win editors over to Corbyn”.
Simply exchange the words Emily Thornberry for Boris Johnson, Labour for Conservative and Jews for Muslims . . . Steve Beauchampé writes:
Come with me to a parallel universe: Emily Thornberry, having recently resigned as Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, writes – in her £5,000 per week column for a left-leaning national newspaper – offensive and insulting comments about the dress codes and appearance of Hasidic Jews. She dismisses the widespread criticism which swiftly follows and ignores the pleas of Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn to apologise.
But some colleagues spring to her defence: “Oh that’s just Emily” they say, “She’s always been a controversialist, and this isn’t about anti-semitism, it’s just about her positioning herself for a future Labour Party leadership challenge, appealing to her base amongst the membership”.
Meanwhile, media outlets (including several of the BBC’s flagship news programmes) question whether her remarks were even racist at all and conduct debates on whether Hasidic Jews should be allowed to dress in public in accordance with their religious beliefs. And then that nice Mr. Farage comes to Emily’s defence, claiming that she only said what many people are thinking. The row quickly passes and by the weekend opinion polls are showing that Emily Thornberry is the clear favourite amongst party members to succeed Corbyn as leader.
I’m not convinced that parallel universes do exist but I know for certain that the one described above does not. Of course, simply exchange the words Emily Thornberry for Boris Johnson, Labour for Conservative and Jews for Muslims and now it does.
And it’s one where in the Labour Party the merest hint of racism towards the Jewish community (or sometimes the merest hint of the tolerance of racism or sometimes even the failure to deal almost instantly with the merest hint of the tolerance of racism) is met with calls for those both directly and indirectly implicated to at least resign from any official posts which they hold, or to even be expelled from the Party.
It’s a universe in which those accused of any of the above will receive the most scathing and unsympathetic of media coverage, will undergo intense scrutiny from radio and television interviewers with barely a break in the questioning to allow them to defend their actions or place them in a wider context – even to the point where many Labour Party members increasingly feel that balance, reason and proportion are often absent from reportage of allegations of racism within the party.
So whilst those amongst Britain’s Jewish communities who have very real and legitimate concerns about anti-semitism at least have a plethora of individuals and organisations watching their backs (senior politicians from all of the main parties, Jewish pressure groups, three national Jewish newspapers, many in the non-Jewish media), the same comforting thoughts cannot be said for those in the Muslim community, especially those women who choose to wear the burka or niqab. The dogged efforts of Baroness Sayeeda Warsi to raise the issue of entrenched Islamophobia within the Conservative Party and recent supportive words of the estimable Dominic Grieve seem to be best many can expect from members of Britain’s governing part.
As Boris Johnson increasingly positions himself as the United Kingdom’s version of Donald Trump (expect a stiff challenge from Farage for that title) wearing accusations of racism like a badge of honour, a further lurch to the right, a resurgence of UKIP or the emergence of something even more unpleasant seems quite plausible. Should that happen, history tells us that any existential threats to Britain’s religious minorities, be they Muslim or Jewish, will most likely come from the far right rather than anyone involved with the Labour Party.
It’s time Britain’s media began treating racism in the Conservative Party as seriously as it does racism in the Labour Party
August 8th 2018
Adapted, with permission, from http://thebirminghampress.com/2018/08/and-if-we-tolerate-this/
The Labour-led London Borough of Waltham Forest has been monitoring air quality across the borough since 1993. Those living close to a busy, polluted street, are more likely to have an enlarged, misshapen heart. According to a new UCL study for the British Heart Association, published in Circulation, “similar heart remodelling is seen in the early stages of heart failure”.
The Times leader reports today that a study of the effect of ten years’ clean air initiatives in the London borough of Waltham Forest shows the number of households exposed to dangerous levels of noxious nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulates, or PM10’s, has been reduced by nearly 90%.
Air pollution particularly affects the most vulnerable in society: children and older people, and those with heart and lung conditions. Small particulates drawn deep into the lungs and then into the bloodstream are said to raise the risk of dementia, diabetes, asthma and stress as well as cardiac and respiratory illness. Children are more at risk than adults, being shorter and therefore closer to exhaust pipes on urban streets. There is also often a strong correlation with equalities issues, because areas with poor air quality are also often the less affluent areas.
In addition to earlier steps taken, in 2013 the area was selected for one of three mini-Holland schemes in the capital using funding from the Mayor of London – then Boris Johnson.
In 2015, critics of the project, which aims to improve safety and the environment in the borough of Waltham Forest by encouraging more walking and cycling and reducing the volume of traffic in residential areas, applied to the court for a statutory review after the council conducted what they described as a “sham” consultation exercise. The main concern related to road closures and their effect on access to premises and congestion and pollution outside the village. Mr Justice Holgate, sitting in the High Court, London, ruled there was “no merit whatsoever” in any of the criticisms raised.
Some notable achievements of their Air Quality Action Plan include:
- Annual Car Free Days
- Free cycle training for all residents, schools and businesses in the borough
- Continuous implementation of a borough wide 20mph zone
- The introduction of resident supported Controlled Parking Zones
- Reduction of essential car users for Council workers
- Anti-idling operations outside of schools with parent volunteers and Council Neighbourhood Officers
- School engagement projects raising awareness via science lessons and workshops
- £27 million pound investment in cycling and pedestrian infrastructure (Mini Holland scheme funded by GLA)
- Roll out of new car clubs
- Huge increase in schools with accredited School Travel Plans
- Working with neighbouring boroughs
- Introduction of an emission free courier service
- Increased monitoring network throughout the borough.
The lesson of the first study undertaken is that reducing air pollution is essential; the lesson of the second study is that progress is possible.