Thursday, 28 May 2009

Candidate 8: Labour promotes ghettoisation

Candidate 8: Jonathan Fryer, Lib Dem

Jonathan Fryer lives in Tower Hamlets but he said that Hackney appears to be a happier place. The reason is because different communities in the borough interact with each other. But he doesn’t believe this happiness has much to do with Labour Party policies, which he thinks encourage ghettoisation.

Candidate 8 described his home borough as “an odd place” where the poor and the rich, the large communities of white British and Bangladeshi exist side-by-side, but their paths rarely cross.

He said: “Hackney seems to be a happier place. There’s much more interaction in Hackney. In Tower Hamlets there’s a bit of a problem with the community not having much interaction, they don’t have the level of contact they do here.”

He was critical of the Labour approach to race relations: “The way that the Labour Party sees people in class terms and in groups and doesn’t understand that while there are group identities and community identities, if you deal with people entirely as groups and de-personalise them it can be quite negative."

Fryer said that the focus on groups resulted in "ghettoisation" but he said he believed that Britain was a leader in Europe when it came to community cohesion. He said that while Labour figures like former Bethnal Green and Bow MP, Oona King, had been working on this issue, the Labour approach was flawed.

I asked him how bad he thinks the financial crisis will it get?

“I have a lot to do with Vince Cable. He believes that, in the short-term, it is going to get very bad. He saw this crisis years ago and got barracked in the house of commons as a doom and gloom merchant.

Fryer said that there was not a great deal of faith in the government talking about “green shoots” of recovery.

But he said: “Part of it is rebuilding confidence. When people are worried about the possibility of unemployment or generally not confident they’re not spending the markets are getting less and then they start closing down. We don’t have to run far from where we are now to see shops closing down and it’s not always because people haven’t got money, they just aren’t spending it.

I asked how people in Hackney could not be spending if this is one of the poorest boroughs in the country – and they can’t afford not to spend it. So any change in spending won’t be as great as it is in richer areas?

He said: “To a certain extent people in Hackney are poor but they will have been stashing some money away. If they’re west Indian, then it’ll be for a trip back to Jamaica, or for their kids and they’re not spending it, they’re saving it. It would be interesting to know to what extent this is happening. It’s depressing when you see accounts of burglaries and people saying they had £3000 or so in cash stolen from them.”

He said one of the key issues for Hackney was transport: “Clearly there are big transport problems and I think that some of the things we were promised won’t happen and as long as Hackney isn’t plugged into the underground system it is going to miss out.”

I asked him what sort of relationship he would have with MPs?

“Here in Hackney it is Labour. MPs have to have a good working relationship with their MEP to know where EU funding would be possible.” He said that ten years ago MEPs couldn’t go into the House of Commons except by the same route as normal members of the public which he said was “grotesque” but while this had improved, there needs to be far more contact between MPs and MEPS.

Do you eventually want to be a normal MP?

I don’t want to be an MP. An MEP is the height of my ambition.

One of his main hobby horses is that Britain is not educating its children to be European: “The government scrapped learning a second language from the age of 14 a few years ago. And British kids are competing against kids in Germany where they speak 2-3 languages.

I asked if this meant that boroughs like Hackney, which have hundreds of languages, might be seen as a resource?

“One relevant thing is that with Turkish, it is a marginal language in the EU (Cyprus is a member but not north Cyprus). Turkey is very likely to become a member in 10-15 years. I think it would be useful to say to Turkish families here to make sure they keep their language skills because it is going to be very useful and British born ethnic Turks will have a really strong position in the Europe of the future.”

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Candidate 5: Socialism is like the "Life of Brian"

Candidate 5 - representing the Socialist Party of Great Britain - seemed like a nice chap and because I didn't know any better, I wasn't unnerved by the deep historical knowledge required to distiguish his party from other socialist entities on offer. I didn't know about the freaky far left.

Candidate 5, formerly a resident of Lambeth who now lives in Camden, told me that the socialist scene was so riven with schisms that it put Monty Python’s Life of Brian in the shade. (“Excuse me. Are you the Judean People’s Front?”)

This discussion thread snippet about the SPGB - on Dave Osler’s blog - might provide an idea of the kind of intricacies a voter faces:

Stephen Marks: “It is said that the highest vote ever recorded for the SPGB was 500 in a by-election. The candidate was promptly expelled for opportunism, on the grounds that there could not possibly have been 500 voters in the constituency who had fully understood the theoretical Marxist case for socialism as expounded by the SPGB - so the candidate must have been guilty of reformist vote-cadging.”

The response from Dr Paul: “I've heard that story retailed by Stephen Marks, but in the version I was told (by the late Walter Kendall, one of Britain's handful of Kautskians) it referred to the Socialist Labour Party, a group that followed the ideas of Daniel De Leon.”

If it’s a joke its well researched! Karl Kautsky and Daniel De Leon are not figments of anyone's imaginations.

Having read the SPGB's reasonably recent comments on whose votes they want - easiest to read on Dave Osler's blog again - I know I don't understand it, but I like the idea that a person voting has to be totally dedicated to what their voting for or their vote is not wanted.

All the other parties just want my vote and don't seem to care if I understand what my vote means to me. I don't know what I'm supposed to do with my vote so the SPGB tell me its worthless. At least until I get educated. And this sounds true. My vote is worthless to me if I don't understand it. It doesn't empower me, just the people I give it to.

No doubt Candidate 5 would have been as expert at hair-splitting as his comrades but we chatted about other things. He was happier than most of the others to discuss local economies and how the man, or woman, on the street can find out about them. He said a great deal of good information was available on council websites, at least for those with the will to look hard enough.

He provided a couple of examples: “I remember people complaining about how unfair it was that ‘they’ had dumped so many Vietnamese in their area. So I looked up Hampstead and saw that there had been a huge jump in diversity between 1991 and 2001, a 10 per cent increase in migrants and so (unexpected places) have seen big demographic changes too.”

He said: “There are things like a ward-by-ward breakdown of life expectancy. In one Camden ward, Somers Town, the life expectancy is 69 years, in Hampstead it is 79 so you have a 10 year life expectancy gap in the same borough. That is the sort of thing that tells you what a borough is like. Other key indicators that I think you can find fairly easily for Hackney is free school meal entitlement.”

Other issues we discussed were:

Education gap: that statistics for London borough’s show a huge gap between people with degrees or qualifications in general and those who have none. He said that residents should be aware that a significant chunk of the education was imported – professionals moving into areas – and that if these statistics changed it said very little about home grown education.

On Employment: Before discussing the idea that the problem with capitalism was that it required a pool of unemployment, he gave his view on why Hackney residents should not take any comfort from improved employment figures in deprived areas. Particularly when whole economies were shifting into reverse.

He said: “Areas like Hackney are like Teeside where, over the last decade, employment has improved but only when the economy as whole economy grows. When the tide changes, these are the areas that will see the biggest reverses in the shortest space of time. I go back to Teeside now and even the pound shops are shut or having half-price sales.”

He says you can’t have capitalism without unemployment. It needs a pool of unemployment and in areas like Hackney this means grinding poverty for some people and a situation from which it is hard to escape. For single mothers it is almost impossible to escape.

He didn't like the idea of hereditary council housing and sub-letting. It is a problem which he says is endemic (I wasn't sure what this meant).

In terms of the near future for Hackney, as it deals with the knock on effects of the financial crisis, he said: “The effects of massive unemployment – so far we’ve been spared – last time we had Tottenham riots and Brixton riots.” He described this as a form of “collective bargaining by rioting".

Another issue he talked about briefly, which seems to be a concern for some within the mainstream Labour Party in Hackney and London, is an onslaught by militants or Trotskyists/ites if discontent within Labour grows: swap Liverpool for Hackney. Former Hackney Labour whip Luke Akehurst was happy when one of their leaders died. More recently he wrote "Those who cannot learn from History are doomed to repeat it" for both Labourlist and on his own blog, both of which sparked some comment.

Writing in March 2009, Akehurst said: "Insurgency from the left has afflicted Labour during every major period in opposition - the 1930s, the 1950s and the 1980s. In every case it has been necessary to wage a long and bitter internal struggle to smash the left and purge entryists who are not democratic socialists in order to make the party electable again."

Candidate 5 said that the way that these takeovers generally start and gain power is by having the discipline to have a few militants at important but “boring meetings” that no one else can be bothered to attend - and then move toward the final aim of a socialist revolution.

It probably wouldn’t take much for me to find out who Candidate 5 is, but I haven't. You can read his blog on the event here:

Monday, 25 May 2009

Candidate 3: EU won't allow Hackney workers to be undercut

After I spoke to her, someone told me that candidate 3 was Jean Lambert who is already a Green Party MEP for London. I asked her if she saw Hackney as an economy and whether MEPs could have much impact at this level.

She said: “At EU level people don’t talk about local economy. The focus is on international Europe but some of it does have an impact locally like the procurement rules for local authorities. Are they allowed to buy locally? We could change the procurement rules so that if you want to buy locally you can. At the moment the rules make that very difficult.

“There are also the EU social funds and you could look for projects in London that are eligible that keep money local that could support local enterprise.

But how do you interpret the economic situation in a place like Hackney – what are the important factors to watch?

“The EU does have a number of indicators for that, the question is whether they (describe what goes on in local areas) but I don’t think they do.

Will hackney benefit from the Olympic games if it is not an entrepreneurial community?

“No doubt there’s lots of money to be made from the Olympics. If you look at what a lot of communities/countries do to take advantage of big contracts, they can put in a collective bid. Maybe people look at it like that. Maybe you should make sure you have these links already so if an opportunity comes up you can take advantage of it.”

But there are no big companies in Hackney… and Diane Abbot raised the issue of whether Olympic contractors are employing enough locals (mentioned in previous unemployment blogs)? Apparently they employing people from Eastern Europe.

Jean Lambert said: “There are a number of issues with that. Why do people want to employ people from Eastern Europe? Is it because they don’t know their rights and they aren’t unionised? This is one of the things you could bring in: what are the basic wages. We make sure people can’t use foreign labour to undercut national labour.”

On the minimum wage she said that governments were good at saying what rules they had put in place, like minimum wage, but they never say what sort of resources they put into making them happen or policing them.

She spoke about collective bargaining but we agreed that this was more of a tool for people in work, something that the eastern European workers could use to ensure their rights – not something that Hackney unemployed could use to get jobs.

We discussed whether there were many people in Hackney who could do the work anyway, even if they wanted to. Lambert said that this issue was about education: “The emphasis has been so much on intellectual capital and the knowledge economy that there’s an underinvestment in manufacturing and vocational skills.”

So what sort of an Economy is Hackney?

“Hackney has quite a big creative industry and a lot of small businesses. There are parts of Hackney that you walk around and they are not clone town centres and that gives them resilience because they are not reliant on Gap or Next. There is much more of a local economy here. You have a lot of migrant community (entrepreneurs) because if they can’t get work, if they’re excluded from the usual labour market, people set up their own businesses. Or they may come from a culture that encourages entrepreneurialism.” - Last blog on declining entrepreneurialism.

Date with number 4: "I don't want to be difficult"

The organisers of Candi-dating wanted people to take part in a blind date-style question and answer session without knowing which parties the EU Election candidates represented.

I didn’t know how realistic it was to expect a prospective or existing Member of the European Parliament to know much about a specific area like Hackney but I didn’t have anything else I wanted to ask them about.

In general I asked what they did know, what they thought it was important to know, and how to find things out. Except I didn’t ask them all the same questions - so it might be unfair to compare their responses.

Candidate 4:

Number 4 said he represented a small party. He seemed nice enough but wasn’t very keen on talking about Hackney – he had been to school in Stamford Hill.

After telling me he would represent the whole of London and that he stood for joining the Euro and strengthening passport-free arrangements he said: “I don’t want to be difficult, obviously there are a range of economic circumstances across London. When you have big constituencies across the EU it is not possible (to have specific knowledge). If you look at the East Midlands for instance, or the whole of London, I’m not sure even Hackney can be described as one economic area. It is very varied.

“To attempt to break it down to a lower level than that would be inappropriate but it would be right for an MP for Hackney or Greenwich to be able to that but it would be quite different at an EU level.

“I’m not from a big party. I’m representing a set of views that should be of interest to people in London as a whole. If I get elected I will work with local MPs and local groups. It would be a bit optimistic for a small party to (have the level of knowledge about a particular local area)

Asked whether he thought the VAT register was a good indicator of the level of entrepreneurialism in Hackney – previous story - he said: “The VAT list would be a good proxy, I can’t see how it wouldn’t be and it is very significant and worrying (that it is diminishing).

Asked how bad he thought the economic situation would get he said: “David Blanchflower said he thought there would be substantial job losses for the rest of the year. I can’t see this recession coming quickly to an end. Even when it slows down it will carry on for a long time and I think Hackney is going to be affected by that as everywhere else is.

In terms of effects on racially mixed areas, he said that the electorate was upset with conventional political parties: “Part of the resentment that has been lavished on MPs (over their expenses)… is to do with a society that is profoundly worried about its economic future. I think the electorate wanted to be deceived. (They wanted to think that their politicians could rescue them from this problem and the expenses scandal took that optimism away from them).

“Another side is the potential for the BNP who will be claiming that foreigners are responsible for the economic problems. There is a potentially volatile situation here that might find its expression in this election.”

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Navel-gazing intro: Candi-dating in Hackney

My brother-in-law is the only person who has asked me to explain why I have never voted. I argued that the issues were too complex; that no one understands the issues (even people who have spent their professional lives trying to understand them); that everyone who does vote is using the evidence to justify an emotional decision; that the evidence could be used to justify anything - except a decision based on evidence.

My brother-in-law hasn’t stopped voting and I haven’t started so the argument was probably never relevant - for some reason he votes and for some reason I don’t. I don’t have faith in my argument that it is all too complicated - it could be used to justify not getting out of bed in the morning - but it has become my excuse for not getting involved. At least not as a voter.

I am afraid to step into this arena now. I fear that my opinions are half-formed, adolescent, embarrassing. I am afraid that if I try to express a view on the issues, rather than my lack of confidence in the system, my ignorance will be exposed and ridiculed. Politicians and the people who surround them appear to spend a lot of time exposing and ridiculing each other and I assume that they would happily do the same to me.

Now, having set it up as an act of selfless bravery, I reveal that on Saturday, I went to the first political event I have ever been to in Hackney – apart from a couple of council meetings.

The reason I could stomach it – or even contemplated going at all – was because of this blog. I assumed it would allow me to hide behind the cloak of journalism. There was another reason too: on Thursday I found out that I might be made redundant and I didn’t feel like sitting around thinking about it.

So going to Hackney Unite’s 'candi-dating' event wasn’t really a tentative step in my journey toward democracy but I’m aiming to write up the experience over the next couple of days.

Here’s the Socialist Party of Great Britain's candidate’s take on the day and a quick mention by the Lib Dem candidate.

Friday, 15 May 2009

News: School build in the dregs

Last month the contractor due to build Hackney schools went into administration - here's what happened, according to now its old projects are being cherry-picked by competitors with the Hackney school project left on the side lines, again according to which said: "The remaining Verry contracts could be bundled together and sold by administrator BDO Stoy Hayward, which is understood to be the preferred route. Its other deals include the Hackney BSF contract, the £11.5m Futures College in Southend and a £10.4m residential scheme in Aylesbury."

Hackney Council prefers to work with children in their homes rather than remove them - in the wake of Baby P its a policy that might concern the general public but which experts say is the most responsible way to approach the problem.

Community Care reports: Hackney Council says it has made sustained investment in family support services in Hackney in order to reduce its care population. There are now 330 children looked after by Hackney, compared with 470 three years ago. Steve Goodman, Hackney's deputy director of children and young people's services, says there is "much anxiety" about child protection in local and national government but says Hackney is holding its nerve. He emphasises senior managers must share risk with frontline social workers when making decisions.

"Children's services work is a risky area and the state cannot guarantee that parents won't harm their children, but we can reduce the risk," Goodman says. He told the select committee that bad social work training and bureaucracy in children's social care led to poor, risk-averse practice." Although this looks like old news:

Another hackney gang story - the alleged ringleader of a gang of four who broke into a house in an attempt to steal a large amount of cocaine.

The Times reports a Hackney developer selling luxury flats to students - James Pullan, of the estate agent Knight Frank, says: “This was a purely economic decision. The student market is a relatively steady one right now.”

Community Care also reports a Hackney GP has written a book about autism saying that hype about early diagnosis is making life hell for parents.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Clapton Pond: no part in Sexby's gunpowder plot

Same view different atmosphere from Google Maps.

In 1905 Clapton Pond got a mention in "The Municipal Parks, Gardens and Open Spaces of London" but only because it shouldn't be confused with a better place up the road (Clapton Common?). The author of TMPG&OSoL, Lt. Col. Sexby V.D. (no mistake) wrote: "Beyond the quiet meadows are the lines of aspens and poplars, backed by the rounded forms of the elms about Walthamstow, with their masses of deep shadow, and on the sky-line the ridge of Epping Forest, with a spire here and there, sunlit, and standing out against the purples and ambers of the woods.'*

These beauties, which were once visible from the common, are shut out by the row of houses called Buccleuch Terrace, built about a hundred years ago. On the common is a small pond, much in demand for skating in the winter, which must not be confounded with the better-known Clapton pond some distance down the main road. Behind the pond on the common is Stainforth House, once the residence of Mr. Richard Foster, and more recently of the late Suffragan Bishop of Bedford. Craven House, at the north end of the common (so named after a former owner Mr. Arthur Craven), was at one time the home of the late Mr. Samuel Morley, M.P. for Bristol.

"On the western side of the common is St. Thomas's Church, not a very ornate structure. In October, 1864, a terrific gunpowder explosion between Plumstead and Erith occurred, which shook the houses in Upper Clapton to their very foundations. St. Thomas's Church came off very badly, for the east wall was split from top to bottom by the force of the explosion."

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The news pudding - spit or swallow?

This picture was taken on Hackney Road in June 2005 (The date can be seen above Ricin 'Terrer').

A month later on 7 July 2005 real bombs went off in London killing 52 people and injuring 700.

On 21 July a man tried to blow-up the 26 bus on Hackney Road not far from this newsagents in a follow-up attack.

According to reports from the scene of the failed bombing, witnesses told the police that there were "strange smells" and white crystals around the unexploded bombs.

Perhaps these witnesses thought that these bombs were similar to all the other ones that allegedly and endlessly exploded around the borough. But it wasn't all rubbish. I worked not far away from this spot for one of the papers whose bill posters are featured in the photo. I can't remember the ricin terror, the triad bomb or Europe's war with France.

But I do remember in 2001, just after the 9/11 attack in New York, when one of my colleagues asked the editor (who sat next to me at the time) what the funny looking powder on his desk was... "someone's sent me some anthrax" he said.

The building was evacuated and I remember being terrified and embarrassed. I think I sided with the serious worried people, not the people cracking jokes about death - which turned out to be a mistake. The police turned up looking bored and wandered into the building without even putting their masks on - apparently they had dealt with hundreds of hoaxes.

Judging by the photo above my colleagues and I managed to keep that fear bubbling for four years before it was justified.

Anyway, I spent ages copying out the quote below expecting it to link seamlessly with this subject. I'm sure there is a link but it's 2am and I've failed to find it. It is a depressing description of how journalism failed to deal with something real and terrifying, the main point it makes is: "Conventional journalism could no more reveal this war than conventional firepower could win it, all it could do was take the most profound event of the American decade and turn it into a communications pudding...."

In his book Dispatches Michael Herr said that conventional journalism failed to deal with the extreme circumstances of the Vietnam war - although it doesn't seem to work particularly well under any circumstances:
"And just-like-in-the-movies, there were a lot of correspondents who did their work, met their deadlines, filled the most preposterous assignments the best they could and withdrew, watching the war and all its hideous secrets, earning their cynicism the hard way and turning their self-contempt back out again in laughter."

"If New York wanted to know how the troops felt about the assassination of Robert Kennedy, they'd go out and get it.... They knew that, no matter how honestly they worked, their best work would somehow be lost in the wash of news, all the facts, all the Vietnam stories. Conventional journalism could no more reveal this war than conventional firepower could win it, all it could do was take the most profound event of the American decade and turn it into a communications pudding...." - Michael Herr, Dispatches.

Perhaps a communications pudding is all we should ever expect.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Should UK politicians seek support from abroad?

The previous post mentions George Galloway's trip to Bangladesh before the 2005 General Election.

The reference was made in connection with Hackney-based fundamentalist Christian Reverend George Hargreaves being criticised by the BNP for apparently seeking support for his party in Nigeria.

Whether or not this is something that UK politicians should or shouldn't do, I don't know. But may be it is an aspect of politics that should be more closely monitored - particularly in boroughs with strong links to areas outside the UK.

Galloway beat Oona King by a margin of just 823 votes and the majority of his support came from the Muslim Bangladeshi community which makes up more than 40 per cent of population of his Bethnal Green and Bow constituents.

As such it is likely that his two week trip to Bangladesh played an important part in his victory.

In a speech made at one village on 7 March 2005, Galloway said: "I'm going to be a champion of Bangladesh in London... I will be a champion of Bangladesh in the world. I will fight so Bangladesh receives justice."

He also said: "I'm asking you, my brothers, to telephone every relative and friend in East London, to write them a letter, to send a message, tell them what you heard here... You can strike a blow for dignity when the General Election comes."

When he got back from Bangladesh Galloway was asked: "Do you still intend to become a "Champion of Bangladesh" if you are elected in Bethnal Green and Bow? How do you think that being a "Champion of Bangladesh" will benefit people in Bethnal Green and Bow?

His reply was: "Taking a few words out of the context of thousands I delivered, publicly and privately on a recent visit to Bangladesh, inevitably leads to misrepresentation. My job is not to represent any foreign country or its interests in parliament, nor, of course, would I do so.

"But I do intend to become a champion for all of the people of Bethnal Green and Bow, whatever their race, religion or ethnic origin."

Whether or not the people back in Bangladesh would ever have known that these words were out of context is hard to say. Meanwhile the majority of his constituents back in Tower Hamlets had no idea that he had said the words at all.

As far as I can tell Galloway has stuck to his word and not become a champion of Bangladesh since winning his seat and I don't know if he has been back to the country since. Meanwhile his attention remains focused on the middle east.

However Bangladesh could do with a champion. I'm not sure how accurate or useful this is, but it seems that Bangladesh has more people living in it than the combined global population of Palestinians (c.10m, although 80% of those in Gaza Strip below the poverty line) the entire population of Iraq (31m - now with around 30 per cent living below the poverty line) and the UK population of around 60m (14% below the poverty line in 2003). Add them all up to 100m and may be about 30-40 per cent live below the poverty line.

Meanwhile Bangladesh has a population of 153m with 45 per cent living below the poverty line.

However the reasons why Galloway doesn't spend much time on Bangladesh is that, if he did address human rights abuses or corruption... or anything else, he would lose the support of one faction or other within the Bangladeshi community.

The issue received some attention back in 2005 but not much. This is an extract from an angry piece published in April 2005 by a member of the Socialist Workers Party (which later split from Respect). The piece mentions some of the problems associated with Galloway's trip. Here is an excerpt: "Despite being asked to respond to these instances (of human rights abuses) Galloway has maintained a diplomatic silence. Could it be, as suggested by Private Eye, that Galloway has compromised himself in his ambition to get elected, being aware that “most Bangladeshis in London, whose votes Respect is seeking, support either the Awami League or the Bangladesh National Party, the two groups back home most closely implicated in such abuses” (Private Eye April 1-14)?

"Either way, it is clearly untenable for comrades in the SWP to maintain a silence on such issues. Votes from the Bengali community must be won on a principled basis, not through courting reactionary “politicians and businessmen”

In case you're wondering, I'm not a member of the SWP or the BNP (Bangladesh or British).

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Hackney christian politician in BNP 'mistake'?

The Reverend George Hargreaves has been attracting the attention of a more sinister crowd than the usual outraged atheists and liberals. (His entry in Wikipedia tells you what you need to know about him - the creator of gay anthem So Macho turned anti-gay Christian fundamentalist based in Hackney.)

Hargreaves' bizarre views are no secret and yet the far right seems to have resorted to fiction to demonise him.

On 3 May this story was posted on the Telegraph website blog: Eu Madness: Nigerians, with Nigerian Passports, Living in Nigeria, Can Vote in British EU Elections by Proxy.

The story claimed that Hargreaves was calling for Nigerians to vote in UK elections.

One reader left a short comment pointing out that the original story - printed in the Nigeria-based Daily Independent - was actually talking about Nigerians with British passports who, like any other British citizen, can vote in British Elections.

It looked like a mistake but exactly the same story, 'mistake' and all, had appeared on the BNP's website a day earlier on 2 May. Here BNP readers had left 103 comments. The BNP site provided a link to the original story in the Nigeria-based newspaper, which the Telegraph blog had not, until one was provided by blogger Peter Barnett.

Some people might wonder why Hargreaves feels the need to campaign for his party in Nigeria but he's certainly not the first to have looked beyond the borders for support. For a start there's George Galloway who campaigned in Bangladesh in 2005. He visited villages with links to Tower Hamlets. After mentioning that he was keen on an amnesty for illegal immigrants in the UK (not necessarily a bad idea) he (possibly a bit cynically) called on his audiences to write, fax and phone their relatives in Tower Hamlets - but more on that another time.

Hargreaves' brush with the BNP was only the latest in a long line of stunts - his other recent escapade apparently involves a poster campaign saying "Murder is not a joke. Sack Alan Duncan" following some comments made by the MP on Have I Got News For You. His last poster campaign 'There Definitely Is A God" was in response to an atheist poster campaign saying "There is no God".

For those who like to leave the nutters to do battle on the fringes of politics, there may be no cause for further alarm.

But a quick google search delivers a Hackney Council scrutiny panel investigation on gun crime in 2004. This says: "The Crime and Disorder Scrutiny Panel would also like to encourage the continuance of contact and discussions between the Council’s Community Partnership team and Reverend George Hargreaves(CANDLE Project) in order to establish clarity relating to the development of his proposed Barnardos led multi-agency response to social deprivation."

Whatever progress was made with this interesting sounding project, no further mention could be found. But the Reverend George Hargreaves' ties to the establishment were highlighted again in 2007 in a piece called: "Half of all young people arrested are revealed to have smoked cannabis":

"Mr Hargreaves, who is the pastor of the Hephzibah Christian Centre in Hackney and sits on two Metropolitan Police committees, said: 'We are talking about a brand of cannabis that sends young people schizophrenic."

And for something lighter, here's a story from the Times about how multiculturalism isn't working in London with a passing reference to Hackney: "I realise now I was confusing coexistence with integration. Looking back, not only were my eight years there marked by a retrospectively bewildering number of terrifying incidents, such as the two times I was mugged on my doorstep, the one time a potential flatmate was mugged on the way to inspect my flat, the several times police officers suggested I move out (“If you saw what I see, you'd get out”), the one time I went to throw away rubbish and discovered a vagrant copulating with a local prostitute in the refuse area, the bombing, the mini-riot, the numerous anti-terrorism raids, the stabbings, kneecappings and murders, but also a complete failure to make friends with any local residents."

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

History: Meg Hillier will defect to the Lib Dems

There hasn't been much news on Hackney over the last couple of days. Top stories appear to be Charles and Camilla turning up at Hackney City Farm which has a nice link - via the Princes Trust - to news that son-of-Hackney Idris Elba, star of US cop and gangster TV show The Wire, wants to be the first black James Bond.

Elba, who hopes to help persuade London kids to stop carrying knives, said that life here was similar to that of Baltimore gangsters portrayed in The Wire. The interesting thing about that idea is that the grimmest and most intriguing bits of The Wire were about political corruption and how politicians manipulate and abuse the police.

All of which has nothing to do with the rest of this post - a lazy trawl through Meg Hillier memorabilia on Google. An unfriendly Telegraph piece, written in April 2005, before Hillier won her seat, provides a problematic start. I don't know how reliable this article is - may be I'm just misunderstanding things - but some of its claims about Meg don't seem to fit.

Telegraph, 27 April 2005: "In her reasonable, I'm-happy-to-have-a-sensible-discussion-about-it style, Mrs Hillier reckons she would have voted against the Iraq war and against the introduction of identity cards, and her leaflets bear the headline: "Gordon Brown will help Hackney."

Info from shows that in August of the same year Meg Hillier "voted very strongly for introducing ID cards. votes, speeches" it also says she " Voted very strongly againstinvestigation into the Iraq war. votes, speeches"

Not from Google, but in 2005 the East London Advertiser reported that Meg Hillier was working as a press officer for Tower Hamlets Council. At the time she was a parliamentary candidate for Hackney South and Shoreditch. Normally a position in a council press office would be classified as politically sensitive and no one standing for, or holding public office, should hold the post. According to Labour-controlled Tower Hamlets Council this rule did not apply to Hillier because she was employed via an agency and so was not considered a council employee.

Obviously she won the seat but history - via - says that she'll be a Lib Dem soon: "Oddly enough two Labour MPs for Hackney South in a row have defected to the centre party. Ron Brown, MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch from 1974-1983 defected to the SDP in 1981, when he was defeated by Labour’s Brian Sedgemore. Sedgemore in turn defected to the Liberal Democrats shortly before 2005 when he stood down from Parliament."

The Telegraph, 27 April 2005 article also quotes Hillier saying: "So far 60,000 Hackney residents are registered with dentists, out of a population of 202,000. What's that saying about the general dental health of the population?"

City and Hackney Teaching and Primary Care Trust report to the board mentions 7 MP's letters sent by September 2008 some of which feature dentists. It's an issue she's still grappling with:

Date MP Subject Acknowledged Actioned by: Final response
24/6/08 Mark Field Care issues 27/6/08 Steve Rowlands Ongoing
26/6/08 Meg Hillier Dental Poor advice/ treatment 9/7/08 Caroline Gilmartin 4/09/08
26/6/08 Meg Hillier Poor treatment received by son at Royal London 9/7/08 Marian Goodrich Ongoing
9/7/08 Diane Abbott Poor dental treatment 22/7/08 Ruby Mangal Ongoing
9/7/08 Meg Hillier National Health & Social Care Awards 23/7/08 Lesley Mountford 23/7/08
9/7/08 Meg Hillier Mental Health issue 23/7/08 Lesley Mountford Ongoing
15/7/08 Diane Abbott Poor GP Treatment at Medical Centre 23/7/08 Ruby Mangal Ongoing

Telegraph, 27 April 2005 article also said: "At one point Mrs Hillier predicted: "Britain will look like Hackney.""

Which may or may not be similar to the Hackney outlined in the 2001 Census demographic also provided by :

Total 2001 Population: 96269
Male: 47.7%
Female: 52.3%
Under 18: 25%
Over 60: 13.6%
Born outside UK: 34.6%
White: 57.7%
Black: 27.8%
Asian: 6.7%
Mixed: 4.4%
Other: 3.5%
Christian: 54.1%
Hindu: 0.7%
Jewish: 1.2%
Muslim: 12.9%
Sikh: 0.6%
Full time students: 9.1%
Graduates 16-74: 30%
No Qualifications 16-74: 30.7%
Owner-Occupied: 27.3%
Social Housing: 58.5% (Council: 36.3%, Housing Ass.: 22.2%)
Privately Rented: 11.8%
Homes without central heating and/or private bathroom: 11.2%

Monday, 4 May 2009

Pipe smokes democracy

Mayor Jules Pipe sounded so convincing when he rubbished democracy improving attempts by Hackney and other councils it hardly seemed worth revisiting the subject. But a quick look at some of the data available suggests he may have been cherry-picking.

At 29 April's full council meeting Pipe said that past efforts to interest Hackney residents in grass-roots budgeting had failed. He also said that this route for improving local democracy could end up costing taxpayers on several fronts as budgets were left unspent and pavements in disrepair led to increased insurance claims.

The mayor said that there was no evidence that past and ongoing experiments in devolved budgeting had led to improved democracy or interest in how the borough was run.

He said it had been tried in 1990: "Five neighbourhoods were given £100,000 and every year we ended up with the money unspent in a number of neighbourhoods." He said that this and other attempts to devolve budget decision making "didn't strengthen democracy in any way whatever."

One of the examples he used to strengthen his argument was Kirkless Council's devolved budget scheme and many of the negative figures he used - £600,000 was unspent in 2007/2008, some wards have £2m back-logs on pavement budgets and projects are often held back by disagreements between different parties in the same wards - were discussed in this Kirklees Council document: Safer Stronger Communities Scrutiny Panel

The final line of the documents findings is: "In the main, the practice of devolving decision-making to wards has been useful and in most cases the full allocation has been spent." Not at all the view of Mayor Pipe.

His negative view of these projects was based mainly on the belief that they didn't create the desired democratic interest.

However the report in the above link appeared to state the opposite - with cross party bickering causing problems, not disinterest. More to the point Kirklees is a Labour/Liberal led council and more likely to face these political disputes than Labour dominated Hackney. Unless Pipe thinks this process might cause rifts between his councillors.

The growth in democratic understanding also seems to be backed by this report from 2006 : "Many councils have established relatively small-scale (generally under £100,000 per area) local project budgets to be allocated by area committees. These have proved popular with councillors and community representatives alike as they represent direct decision making by frontline councillors with their communities. But they can be problematic in that they can detract frontline councillors into time-consuming allocations of small funds rather than working to influence mainstream decision making."

No doubt Mayor Pipe's response was well researched and probably based on more up-to-date information. But judging by the superficial google-searched documents I could find it looks like he's just plucked a few bad bits out to make a point he wanted to make anyway. If so, why?

If these projects don't work, where's the proof? Or is he saying that Kirklees Council can't accept that their project has failed and its leaders are deluding themselves?

Pipe was responding to a question from Conservative leader, Cllr Coggins: "What is the Mayor's attitude to 'ward budgets'? (see for example the arrangements in Brent, Westminster, Eastbourne and other authorities).

Pipe said he wanted to encourage people to understand the council decision making process and that "we are developing our approach to participatory budgeting" but it would depend on those people who want to get involved having a better understanding.

But he said the main hurdle to getting this process underway was a technical one: "We haven't done participatory budgeting sooner because this council sets it budget extremely late, usually the paper work is available in January and it would need to be available around October to be able to go to the public with ideas and gauge their reaction and involve them in the decision making process."

So no plans for grass-roots democracy in Hackney at the moment.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Is Hackney 2009 better than Hackney 2007 - 7,400 on incapacity benefit, 63% of them under 50.

Meg Hillier 22nd April 2009: "The budget includes a number of measures to support jobs and people out of work. 18-24 year olds who reach 12 months of unemployment will be guaranteed a job, training or work placement to ensure they do not get stuck in long-term unemployment. An additional £1.7 billion has been set aside for the Department of Work and Pensions for extra support for all jobseekers through Jobcentre Plus."

Meg Hillier 8th May 2007: "Hackney, South and Shoreditch is the constituency with the second highest number of incapacity benefit claimants in London, and it has the 31st highest number nationally. In my constituency alone, 7,400 people are on incapacity benefit, 63 per cent. of whom are under 50, which clearly indicates that a significant number of people have problems that are not connected with being old and tired from work, or worn out and disabled in that way. Their mental health problems often stem from other problems such as substance abuse. We need to consider the way in which jobcentres deal with people with mental health issues.

"The time scales involved in requiring people to return to work and the understanding of episodic mental health problems are often severely lacking. I spoke to a user who told me that if they went along on a good day, the person at the jobcentre would say, “You’re fine. Why can’t you work?” Understanding is not always forthcoming, and we all need to work to highlight the issue and encourage employers in our constituencies to recognise that they can employ someone with a mental health problem, as long as they make sure that they have the right support."

Meg Hillier links: Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for ID

Meg Hillier's homepage:



Friday, 1 May 2009

Election fraud epidemic: More to come

The Guardian reports that Diane Abbott chaired a meeting on terror laws and tabled an early day motion (EDM) calling for an immediate independent review.

A quick check shows DA has tabled 10 EDMs since December 2008 and signed 153 in the same period. It wasn't easy to check if tabling ten constitutes DA as an EDM junkie (so I didn't check) but her signing of 153 EDMs is small fry compared to a number of MPs who have signed over 1000.

In comparison Meg Hillier has signed none and tabled none. There was no mention in the rules that ministers couldn't sign or table EDMs although all ministers appeared not to take part in this process.

As mentioned previously in this blog, Abbott's EDM on unemployed people volunteering for charity work was pulled because it was unfounded, but her EDM on unemployment remains in place and has been signed by 49 MPs. Last year DA said that Olympic developers were falsely claiming to employ local people. Her claims were aired again this week by Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, who asked how many of the site's 4,101 employees have long term residency in the five Olympic boroughs. His borough has an unemployment rate over 9%. This story from the BBC seems to give good back ground:

One of the EDMs signed by Abbott is about electoral fraud. Today there were conflicting reports about the state of election fraud - one says there's a problem as six are jailed for electoral fraud.

The other says there was no evidence of electoral fraud in the 2008 local elections.

As the prosecutor in the former piece said: "This week the newspapers are full of what has been called the swine fever pandemic, but there has been another epidemic that has been working its way across the United Kingdom in recent years.”

For some background on Hackney try:

There wasn't much real Hackney news about today. The Telegraph has a piece that mentions moving away from Hackney, as does the Times. The former went to West London, the latter to somewhere else to farm sheep. Basically they had nothing to do with Hackney at all and they're only mentioned as proof that I've looked.

Otherwise Reuters reports more Olympic doom.

Paul Finch, chairman of the review group overseeing architecture and urban design of the London Olympics, said: "If you look at the Olympic site and consider what the map will look like a couple of months after the games, once all the temporary facilities have been taken out, there are going to be an awful lot of great big gaps in the site -- this is really the big challenge now."

Helpful in Hackney: how to handle werewolves

According to Wikipedia: "In the German lowland of Schleswig-Holstein, a werewolf could be cured if one were to simply address it three times by its Christian name, while one Danish belief holds that simply scolding a werewolf will cure it.[6] Conversion to Christianity is also a common method of removing werewolfism in the medieval period. A devotion to St. Hubert has also been cited as both cure for and protection from lycanthropes."

Apparently silver weaponry does not work - no one mentioned this remedy until 1935. So the best option may be a sharp "scolding" unless you know the creatures name.

Was the world more interesting back in 1998 or in 1944?