Monday, 26 September 2011

Tottenham Riots – Public Consultation with Police and Haringey Council

It looked good on paper: a public meeting at the College of North East London (CONEL) on 21 September, arranged by the head of Haringey Council at which the recent riots in Tottenham would be discussed, and suggestions welcomed for how to heal the area. I went with my neighbour - K - who was delighted on our arrival to see a packed hall containing so many of her old friends, activists she'd known and worked with when she lived at Broadwater Farm in the eighties.

The meeting began in a sedate and respectful manner, as we heard the first two speakers: Symeon Brown, who is involved with the excellently-named HYPE (Haringey Young People Empowered), and Sharon Grant, who spoke of the hostility often encountered by her late husband Bernie, and also referred to the possibly dangerous effects of the cuts favoured by our millionaire ConDem masters. The third speaker was Council leader, Claire Kober, to be followed by questions from the body of the hall. It was after Ms. Kober's few anodyne remarks that the feeling in the hall abruptly changed.

First of all, the "Chair" who was in charge clearly had his own agenda i.e. to prevent anyone saying or asking anything remotely embarrassing or challenging. He (one 'Fred Ellis' - who he?) spent the entire time interrupting and barracking questioners; secondly, the vast numbers wishing to pose questions were selected by the handing over of a microphone, which mostly DIDN'T WORK (!!!) so they could barely be heard anyway, unless they shouted.

The first questioner was a woman seated immediately behind us, so we could hear her perfectly. She was also so angry that she could probably be heard in Ealing. Her challenge to Claire Kober was that Haringey Council bore some responsibility for the events of August because of their swingeing cuts to youth services, such as the closing of number ten Broad Lane, which had been a centre for youth-oriented groups, but had been re-assigned by Haringey as commercial offices, thereby hurling the youths onto the street.

Claire Kober stated that the woman was wrong, and that there had been no such closure. The woman erupted in fury, "How can you say that, I WORKED there!" Oops.

Ms. Kober, clearly thinking on her feet, or maybe using them for thinking, suggested that she 'would be around' after the meeting, and would discuss the matter with the woman privately.

Hm. Except this is an alleged public meeting, and the woman's perfectly legitimate question had not been answered, or even addressed, just lied about, while she herself was accused of lying.

And now, suddenly, there was anger in the room. Perhaps Ms. Kober was demonstrating to us how to start a riot? She was fortunate that the hall was filled, not with disaffected youth, but veterans of community spirit and action, and that they were determined to force the 'top table' to confront the underlying causes of the disturbances of August. There were dozens of hands up after this, people wishing to ask questions, but they were all ignored, as the Police Acting Assistant Commissioner got up to make his contribution. Steven Kavanagh (pictured above) looked and sounded like he'd been educated at Eton. He was immediately challenged by a man behind us, who said that he was a 'people's reporter', and that he'd gone to the scene of the riots to witness them for himself. It was self-evident, he said, that the police were only interested in protecting the police station, but that the rest of Tottenham could burn to the ground, for all they cared. There was no response to that either.

Stafford Scott is also involved with HYPE and, despite the attempts of the Chair to subvert his speech, managed to make a very eloquent one, saying that he had not been surprised one bit by the riots, as the young people he worked with had become ever more marginalised by recent policy, both of central government and the council. Stafford had made a similar argument in The Guardian just after the riots. It is worth a read.

He also referrred to the iniquitous 'Stop and Search' laws, and the fact that the rules have now changed so that when exercising it, the police no longer have to indicate the race of their prey. So we will not know in future that 85% of those stopped and searched are black.

My friend K managed, after about an hour of waving her hand in the air, to get to speak, and she challenged the police representatives about their collusion with the media. She pointed out that the story about Mark Duggan shooting at them appeared in the media before even his family knew what had happened. She also pointed out that the story is of dubious veracity anyway, and was nothing but propaganda.

The late and unheralded arrival of Lynne Featherstone MP, and even later one of David Lammy MP, convinced me that the entire farce was a PR stunt, an attempt to pretend that the authorities cared a whit about the riots, or their effects on Tottenham.

I decanted to the foyer outside the hall, and met a fellow who had missed the contribution of the original speaker. He was furious when he heard what had happened, and vowed to accompany the speaker if she wished to confront Ms. Kober later, as he knew well that HYPE had been turfed out of the same address she was referring to. I also met a woman who had recently gone back to work as a nurse after having children and, in the fifteen years of her absence, could not believe the degree to which the NHS has been privatised, "everything", she said, "has already been outsourced". Then there was the elderly gent who came out of the hall saying to me that he had one fervent wish before he died - to see the end of the forty-year domination of Haringey Council by Labour. They think they're untouchable and can do what they like, he said. Yes, I agreed, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Too right, he said.

I got back to the hall just in time to see Lynne Featherbrain on her feet addressing the crowd. Fortunately, however, she was given the non-working microphone, so nobody heard a word.

On the way home, K asked me what the point of the meeting had been. I didn't know. Why, she said, were we obliged to sit there as if we were in school assembly while we were lectured by the staff, instead of having several 'workshop' groups which might have been more productive. I didn't know that either.

I know that it was a shameful waste of time, and I don't hold out much hope for the achievements of the Haringey Community and Police Consultative Group, if this was their idea of consultation.

Written by ANNIMAC (nom de plume)
Haringey Activist and Green Party Supporter
Photo from the Hornsey Journel

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Tottenham People Speak Out About the Recent Riot

Tottenham people speak out in this video about the fatal killing of Mark Duggan by the police, the subsequent IPCC cover up, police harrassment in the area, and the riot that spread across London and numerous English cities.

Why do we have to wait until the end of the year for the IPCC investigation into the shooting? An attempt to brush things under the carpet, I think.

Please share this video with as many people as possible, we need the truth about what happen to Mark Duggan to come out. No whitewash.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Cost of the War in Afghanistan

Great video, narrated by Tony Benn, with music by Brian Eno. It puts into perspective the money spent on this long running war, with no end seemimgly in sight. Considering the spending cuts domestically in the UK, how can these costs continue to be justified? Let's leave Afghanistan to the Afghani's.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Book Review - Planet Dancing by Patrick McCusker

I was recently sent a free copy of this book by the author’s public relations firm, and offered the opportunity to interview the author for publication on this blog. I read the book and sent off some interview questions, but have been met with a stony silence. I guess my questions rather gave away the fact that I didn’t like Planet Dancing, and here are the reasons why.

Patrick McCusker is an academic, writer of short stories and producer of radio features. He clearly has a profound love of nature which comes through in his writing, and so, a sincere concern for the planet’s ills, but his remedies lack credibility I’m afraid.

This short book is illustrated throughout with colourful sketches, many depicting happy dancing children. The first section of Planet Dancing is written as a series of short stories or tales, parables even, highlighting various ecological problems, which are moderately entertaining. The second part of the book advances the author’s prescriptions of how to put things right, and it is here that I found the book to be very disappointing.

One idea, that children be given ‘nature names’ rather like native north American peoples, is well meaning, but to then claim that this will inevitably lead to children, when full grown adults, respecting nature more, is a huge leap of faith in my opinion. Indeed, the author puts great faith in children to protect our environment, and has seemingly largely given up on adults being able to change their ways.

McCusker further pursues this theme with his suggestion that a ‘children’s nature reserve’ be set up by collecting small amounts of money from the children of the world. He also suggests that the great religions of the world should set up a second reserve. Even if these ideas came to pass, and there are many practical hurdles to overcome, it would not have any significant impact on species depletion worldwide.

Strangely, there is no mention in this book of man-made climate change, which is surely the biggest threat to all living things on the planet, and we get some insight into the reason for this, in the author’s attitude to multi-national corporations. He suggests that people like Bill Gates could be persuaded to contribute large amounts of cash to alleviate world poverty, and goes further with his recommendation that corporations be ‘induced financially’ to provide work in factories, on meagre wages, in poor countries, to get people off the land. Incredibly, there is no acknowledgement that these same corporations are the root cause of the ecological crisis. In one astonishing passage, McCusker advocates that ‘professional bribe fixers’ be employed to utilise the endemic corruption in many poor countries.

Until we got to these later chapters of Planet Dancing, especially looking at the illustrations of animals and children, I was put in mind of a children’s book. It may well have been a better idea to write a purely children’s book given the author’s faith in children saving the planet, and target them directly. As it stands, this book, well-meaning though it is, is shallow and somewhat na├»ve.

McCusker’s philosophy seems to be a combination of deep ecology and eco-capitalism, which he advances in this book. At best, this type of thinking is pretty irrelevant, when it comes to providing answers to the ecological crisis, and at worst, down-right dangerously complacent. The only way to save the planet is to radically transform the way we organise our economies along the lines of an eco-socialist approach, but you’ll find none of that here.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Naomi Klein - Capitalism and Climate Change

This is an excellent video by Naomi Klein, author of No Logo and The Shock Doctrain. It puts the blame for climate change squarely where it belongs, on the free market capitalist system. Says it all, really.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

ConDem Government’s Economic Recovery Do Nothing Strategy

The BBC reports that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is forecasting growth in the UK economy will be below 1% (at best) for the next twelve months. At worse, the UK economy could contract by as much as 1%, bringing about the long feared ‘double dip’ recession. Even if technically the UK economy does not go back into recession, it seems the best that can be hoped for is a ‘flat lining’ almost stagnant performance over the next year.

One might think that this news would sting Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne into action, and so bring forward some plan for stimulating the UK economy. President Obama announced this week a $450bn such package to help recovery in the US economy (which the OECD predicts will grow by over 1% in the coming year), but no such action appears to be forthcoming from the British government.

Instead, we can expect a further round of ‘quantitative easing’ (The Bank of England printing more money) and little else. The problem with this is that it has been tried twice before, and what happens is, the banks swallow up this extra money to boost their reserves, with a resultant marginal effect on the economy at large. On top of this, the only idea doing the rounds, as suggested by a group of British economists, is to cut the top 50% rate of income tax for those earning in excess of £150,000 per year.

This ‘trickle down’ theory of neo liberal economics has it that, high earners will work harder, creating work for those in the middle and at the bottom of the wealth league table, and so the economy will rise phoenix like from the ashes and we can then bask in the sunny uplands of national prosperity. This is a highly dubious theory and I’ve never understood why rich people need to be paid more money to encourage them to work harder, but poorer people need to be paid less to encourage them to do the same thing.

The problem with the global economy at the moment is a lack of demand. Most people have less money, because of unemployment, short working hours, pay freezes and employment insecurity. People are cutting their spending for these reasons, and it must be remembered that Value Added Tax (VAT) is now 5% higher than it was under the previous Labour government, who reduced it to 15%. Higher prices further depress demand.

What is needed is a package of government spending, like the Green New Deal which will pay for useful work such as home insulation and expanding public transport, and help us to reduce our carbon emissions whilst providing jobs for people. VAT should be cut, perhaps by 10%, welfare benefits should be increased and income tax on the highest earners should be increased, not reduced.

This is all very reminiscent Conservative Chancellor Norman Lamont saying in the early 1990’s recession, "If higher unemployment is the price we have to pay… then it is a price worth paying." Essentially, the ConDem government is ideologically compelled to do nothing, and let the market sort itself out eventually, however long that takes, and however painful that will be for people struggling to keep their heads above water financially.

I think it was Albert Einstein who defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”, and this is an accurate description of ConDem economic policy in 2011.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Responsible business: how to manage a CSR strategy successfully

By Manfred Pohl and Nick Tolhurst (eds). Wiley 2010.

There is a important debate to be had about the role of Business in general, and corporations in particular, in the transformation to a more sustainable society. There are many who believe that the phrase 'corporate social responsibility (CSR)' is an oxymoron, and that it is folly to hope that the very institutions which have created the mess that we are in can be trusted to lead us out of it. But there are others, sincere environmentalists all, who genuinely think that the power, energy and ingenuity of corporations, and the mechanisms of the market and the profit motive, can be harnessed for good.

Sadly, those interested in this debate will find not much of relevance in this collection of essays. As the introductory chapter says, “ unashamedly steers clear of most of the theories and academic debates surrounding the subject.” Rather, it is aimed at those who “...are looking to pursue a career in a CSR-related field” and “deals with the nuts and bolts of how to run a CSR strategy successfully”.

The book is a publication of the Germany-based Institute for Corporate Cultural Affairs. The point of the Institute, and the book, is partly to fly the flag for the German model of stakeholder capitalism, and there's a reasonable chapter on how that works that would be useful to those who don't know anything about it. Other chapters cover things like how to run a company volunteering programme, or the benefits of sports sponsorship. There are lots of checklists, and guidance on reporting and auditing supply chains. There is a more reflective chapter on the evolution of CSR which gets close to asking what it is actually for.

Ultimately, though, this is a book for those who do believe that corporations, with a little prodding from the right kind of CSR professional, can be and do good. There's not much reflection on what it means for a corporation to be 'responsible'; RBS gets several positive mentions because it lends money to some renewable energy projects. The word 'tax' appears only once, in the context of a suggestion that filing online might save carbon emissions – the suggestion that responsible businesses don't try to avoid taxes has no place here.

Written Jeremy Green
Haringey Green Party