Sunday, 28 February 2010

Jump on board!

I was on the campaign trail with Respect councillors, candidates and supporters yesterday, and I am about to do the same today, so got to be quick!

All our canvassers reported the feedback on the doorstep was extremely positive. And this was certainly my experience. I concentrated in going door to door in the Moseley and Kings Heath ward and was really heartened by the level of name recognition and warmth of response that I received.

Respect election campaigns in Birmingham are always exciting and fun to be part of. But I feel this one is going to be extra special!

We are out every day. Anybody who wants to help out, can do. Please get in touch by calling 078 121 72885. It does not matter if you have never done this kind of thing before, it’s easy to pick up, and has someone once said, ‘history is made by the first timers’! Feel free to just jump on board and be part of the team!!

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Sparkhill Baths shut till 2012!

The Birmingham Mail has revealed what many of us suspected. Behind all the Lib Dem bluff and bluster, they have no plans to re-open Sparkhill baths till 2012. The consequences will be disastrous for the people of Sparkhill, an area of high population density and deprivation, who will continue to be denied a local swimming pool.

This decision further highlights the reality of exactly what influence the Lib Dems actually have with their Tory partners in the Council House. For all their talk about being in power in the council, the reality is they are only in office. It is the Tories who wield the power, and the Lib Dems are merely their bag carriers. Despite having two of the three councilors in Springfield ward, and one of their own as Cabinet Member for Leisure Services, they can do nothing to save the baths. They have failed the people of Springfield ward. The Lib Dems have become complacent and are using the seats they have to gain personal position rather than championing local people. 

Friday, 26 February 2010

Uniting for social justice

On the occasions that national debate rises above the issue of Gordon Brown’s temper, the topic is cuts, cuts and more cuts. Not cuts for the bankers or the rich tax evaders, only cuts for the public sector. This obsession is economically damaging – risking a new recession - and disastrous for the millions who work for and use public services.

The financial markets were let off the leash, bankers and shareholders greedily pursued super profits, and we were landed with the worst financial crisis in history. But still these people live in a world far removed from most of us. The Royal Bank of Scotland, 84% state owned, and on course for a £4bn loss this year, is about to dish out £1.3bn in bonuses. This is rewarding failure on an obscene scale.

But the consensus among our political parties is that the public sector must pay for an economic crisis it did not cause. People who have worked hard to provide vital services, often for low wages, face attacks on jobs, wages and pensions. This consensus has to be challenged. The public sector cannot be the scapegoat for a private sector that has failed us abysmally. We need to value public service above private profits.

With an election just weeks away we really need to shift the terms of debate towards a much more positive view of public services and public servants. I was pleased to endorse two initiatives today that aim to do just that.

The PCS union – representing civil servants and public sector workers – is asking all parliamentary candidates to sign up to five pledges. And they are asking all their members to ‘Make Your Vote Count’.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Still the people's game?

UEFA report that Premier League clubs are up to their ears in debt. £3.5bn in total. Yep, the ‘b’ is for billion. The 18 clubs in the English league own more than 714 top European clubs put together. 

I am not a big football fan, so I asked my friend Mark Perryman, who is, what to make of it all. Mark is co-founder of Philosophy Football and author ‘Ingerland: Travels with a Football Nation’. I found his reply really interesting.

‘Football has always prided itself on being the people's game. But whatever club we support and however successful, or unsuccessful, as fans we've depended on the patronage of local businesses to fund our passion. Some of them were incompetent, crooked, or both but at least they were rooted in the same towns and cities as our club. For the most part they were the local butcher, baker and candlestick maker or something similar. But since the early 1990s almost all of this has changed.’

Wednesday, 24 February 2010



Tuesday’s meeting of Birmingham City Council adopted a budget that threatens 2,000 jobs this year and up to 7,000 jobs over the next 5 years.

Following the debate, Councillor Salma Yaqoob (Sparkbrook, Respect) said:

“Financial mismanagement on a grand scale by this Lib Dem-Tory council has left thousands of families in fear for their jobs and livelihoods. Job losses on this scale can only means worse services for everyone in Birmingham .

The Lib Dems and Tories claim they are only being ‘responsible’ but this is no more than cynical politics. They are sacrificing the future of thousands of people for the sake of a below inflation council tax rise.

Even a small rise for the richer households - well below the average for English cities - would save these jobs and our services. 

Once again, the Labour Party failed to stand up to Tory and Lib Dem cuts. They had their chance to oppose the budget but meekly abstained in the final vote. Birmingham needs courageous not cowardly councillors.”

For further comment:

Salma Yaqoob - Tel: 0773 904 3531

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Brum's schools crisis

The chronic shortage of primary school places hit the front page of yesterday’s Birmingham Mail. And rightly so. This is one of the biggest problems I face as a local councillor. Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe. It is hardly surprising the demand on primary school places is going to intensify. But instead of the city’s education bosses investing for the future, education provision is being under resourced. Too many of our children are being taught in temporary build accommodation. Many more have to travel great distances across the city because they cannot find a school place in the area in which they live. This problem is particularly acute in deprived inner city wards like Sparkbrook and Springfield.

I have raised this issue both in the Council House and at ward level recently when I invited the Cabinet Member for Education to attend. I stressed that the council’s rote response about their being no school places crisis in Birmingham as a whole is dishonest. Families want to send their children to local schools. It is better for community cohesion and it is certainly better for family life. And it is sad that the areas hardest hit are the poorest. Education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. The solution is simple – we need to build more primary (and secondary) schools.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Dutch troops to leave Afghanistan

Today’s news carries the shocking report that NATO airstrikes have killed 33 civilians in Afghanistan. Opposition to the occupation is growing, especially in those countries who have troops deployed there. Dutch troops are to be withdrawn following the collapse of the Dutch centre-right coalition over the issue of their deployment, raising a risk of a domino effect in other countries. There is an urgent need for the implementation of a peace process. The ever informative Juan Cole raises pertinent questions that examine NATO policy in Afghanistan in his ‘Five Questions for the Afghan Surge; Or, Getting Past the Hype’. It is well worth a read.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Breaking down taboos

I found yesterday’s conference very well organised and attended, with lots of stimulating discussion and interesting people. My speech is below and the photo is of Dr Kevin McNamara, former Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland under Neil Kinnock, 1987-94, with myself, Ken Livingstone, John McDonnell MP, Prof Mary Hickman and Pat Doherty MP.

Thank you so much for your invitation to this wonderful packed conference where so much has been discussed in a passionate and sophisticated manner.

I have come down here today from Birmingham where the conflict in Northern Ireland has left a deep scar in the psyche of my city.

The impact of the pub bombings of November 21st 1974 still reverberate to this day. 21 completely innocent people lost their lives. Nearly 200 were injured. This was an awful, indefensible act, the consequences of which have been dramatic and long lasting. The suffering of the families of those killed and injured still continues. Time cannot be turned back for the Birmingham 6 who were framed and jailed for a crime they did not commit. Politically the cause of Irish unity was set back.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Searching for peace and unity in Ireland

Today I am on my way to London to join with Diane Abbott MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Ken Livingstone and others, including Gerry Adams MP, to speak at a conference on Irish unity. I believe the peace process in is very important, and relevant to conflict resolution in other parts of the world.

The Northern Ireland ‘troubles’ have left a deep scar in the psyche of Birmingham. The impact of the pub bombings of November 21 1974 still reverberate to this day. This was an awful, indefensible act. 21 completely innocent people lost their lives and near 200 were injured. The Irish community suffered badly in the resulting backlash and 6 men were wrongly convicted for the crime. The lives of so many were destroyed.

All conflicts have victims, on all sides. What is impressive about the peace process is the process of reconciliation between former bitter enemies. My hope is that with as the peace process deepens, atrocities like what happened on our streets all those years ago will never happen again.

I hope to post a report on the conference later. 

Friday, 19 February 2010

An immigrant ‘VIP Club’? I don’t think so.

The Daily Express had an ‘exclusive’ yesterday about the way immigrants are having ‘fun and games as they wait to get into Britain’. Apparently, French charities have converted a warehouse to provide sheltered accommodation for immigrants at Calais. The report describes the centre like it was some kind of holiday resort, where guests ‘are being treated like VIP’s’. Read past the headlines though and you find the centre was actually ‘closed down 12 days previously after Calais authorities deemed it unfit for public use’. Some resort.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Morning Star interview

For those that missed my recent interview in the Morning Star, it is available online:

‘Most people offered the chance to debate with the occupants of a lions' den would politely decline and seek a friendlier venue.

Respect party leader and Birmingham councillor Salma Yaqoob is not most people.
Her recent appearance on BBC Question Time to discuss the war in Afghanistan and related issues saw one of the most unbalanced panels ever assembled.
She, in common with 70 per cent of people in Britain, is opposed to the war. All five of her fellow panellists - former army chief of staff General Richard Dannatt, Defence Minister Bill Rammell, Tory shadow minister William Hague, former NATO colonial governor in Bosnia Paddy Ashdown and journalist Piers Morgan - are in favour.
And for a venue, the BBC chose Wootton Bassett, the small Wiltshire town whose population is famed for unfailingly turning out in its main street to pay tribute to corteges of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
Despite this, unbiased viewers would concede that Yaqoob triumphed, winning support from the live audience.’ More here.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Avatar's subversive message

If you have not seen it already, go do so. ‘Avatar’ is a brilliant movie. And not just because of it technical wizardry. It’s got an inspiring message of resistance in the face of exploitation, and apparently overwhelmingly odds. Its central characters, members of the Na’vi people, rise up to protect their homeland in a struggle of national liberation against a corporate empire which is seeking to destroy their way of life in order to steal their natural resources. Sounds familiar? The colonisers consider themselves more civilised due to their technological superiority but what comes across most strongly is their emotional immaturity and inhumanity, expressed in their lack of empathy for others and the environment, in which their own needs and interests are the only consideration.

The parallels with the ‘war on terror’, corporate greed, and environmental destruction will not be lost on many of those watching. The film is also unusual in that it portrayed the consequences of the cold unleashing of destructive power on those on the receiving end. Even more unusual for a blockbuster was that it crossed into the subversive by emotionally tracking the journey of those facing injustice - the fear, terror, hurt, pain and then resistance. The film does this without resorting to crude stereotypes, and encompasses subtlety and beauty instead, makes it even more powerful - and worth watching again!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

'Doing it for ourselves'

My article in the recent New Statesman is now online.

“For Muslim women, the first decade of the 21st century ended pretty much as it started. Much was done in our name, little of which we had asked for. The century began with one of the poorest countries in the world being subjected to a deadly, multibillion-dollar onslaught from a coalition of the most powerful countries. The liberation of Afghan women was just one of the justifications used for a war that now extends ever further into the future.” More here.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Plenty of money for spin…

Respect MP George Galloway has shone a timely light on government spending priorities. He released figures from the Ministry of Defense, obtained in response to a Parliamentary Question, which show a doubling of the budget for “public relations activities”, including on external PR consultants, in the period when Britain joined George Bush’s wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. The MoD has confirmed that between 2001 and 2006 the amount spent on spin increased from £35.1 million to £76.2 million.

George commented:

“Senior military figures have told the Chilcot inquiry that during this period, such was the rush to war, British troops were sent to the deserts of Iraq with jungle fatigues. It is clear that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, however, were prepared to lavish money on the Ministry of Defence’s spin operation, which was deployed against military families who spoke out against the war, such as Rose Gentle. The Iraq war was wrong for many more reasons than just the financial cost and the contempt that was shown for British forces, who were sent to kill and be killed on a lie. But these figures provide a fitting indictment of Blair and Brown: a bottomless pit of cash to try to sell a disastrous and illegal war.”

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Stop the jobs massacre

Up to 7,000 people working for Birmingham City Council could find themselves out of work in the next few years and services savaged if the Tories and Liberal Democrats continue their disastrous rule. The Birmingham Mail reports that up to another 5,000 jobs could go over the next 5 years, on top of up top 2,000 jobs this year.

From April this year, the Council is slashing spending on jobs and services so that it can repay debt and keep the council tax rise below inflation. This policy is madness.

Birmingham City Council spends more than £3 billion every year. The Tories and Lib Dems plan to sack up to 2,000 in 2010 alone. But when all the costs of this are taken into account this will save the council just £25 million – a tiny contribution to the council’s budget.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Afghan war is destabilizing Pakistan

As the NATO offensive in Helmand begins, supporters of the Afghan war argue that it will bring stability to Pakistan. The truth is that Pakistan is becoming more unstable with every day that passes.

The war that is raging in Afghanistan is bringing intolerable death and destruction to Pakistan as well. The USA is carrying out air attacks inside Pakistan, using unmanned drone aircraft. The number of attacks has escalated dramatically since President Obama was elected. And with an estimated 700 deaths in 2009 alone – most of them civilians and children – it is provoking immense anger.

On top of this, Pakistanis are enduring a wave of terrorist attacks, with more than 3,000 people killed in 2009 alone. There is deep anger and hostility towards the Pakistani Taliban and their allies who are carrying out these horrible attacks – often with a sectarian motivation. Many Pakistanis are living in fear.

Continued US intervention into an already chaotic situation is liable to make the situation much worse.

Friday, 12 February 2010

alienated, frustrated and under siege

This weeks New Statesman magazine carries a special feature on Muslims and Islam. It includes an article by yours truly about the recent debate over whether the burka should be banned. I will post it when they put it online. In the meantime, the editorial gives a taster of what is inside.

“Leader: Britain has nothing to fear from Islam

British Muslims, alienated, frustrated and under siege, need our support.
More than half the people of Britain are strongly opposed to a mosque being built in their neighbourhood. Only a quarter of Britons feel positive towards Muslims, while more than a third report feeling "cool" towards them. These are the ominous results from the latest British Social Attitudes Survey. So is Britain anti-Muslim? Is there a place for Islam in British public life?" More here.

Thursday, 11 February 2010


Just a week ago, I wrote that “up to 1,400” jobs could be cut by Birmingham City Council. Within days, the situation has gone from bad to worse. Next year, the council is planning to cut 2,000 jobs and reduce spending by £75 million.

They are calling this an ‘efficiency saving’ but there is nothing efficient about forcing thousands of people onto the dole queues. Vital services will be devastated.

Birmingham’s Tory-Lib Dem council has now led us into the worst crisis that anyone can recall. And this is just the beginning. Experts are already forecasting that government cuts after the election will make the situation even worse.

Care homes, libraries, nurseries, leisure centres and neighbourhood offices – all of them are under threat.

So, here’s a reminder of the ‘noisy protest’ outside the council meeting that will set the budget. Send a message loud and clear to the Tories and Lib Dems: we don’t want our jobs and services destroyed.

Protest at Council Cuts, Tuesday 23 February, 4pm – 6pm, Birmingham Council House, Victoria Square. Called by UNISON, UNITE, GMB, UCATT, AMICUS.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

where there is a will, there is a way

Sparkhill baths has been shut for 18 months. We haven’t even seen the detailed plans to replace it, let alone any sign of builders getting ready to start work. The months and years go by and we are still waiting.

But the Liberal Democrat responsible for sorting out this mess has other things on his mind. Councillor Martin Mullaney is threatening to make a formal complaint against me to the Standards Board.

What is his problem? He doesn’t like the article I wrote on this blog on 3 February. In that article I said he had admitted, under questioning in the council chamber, that funds had not been allocated to rebuild Sparkhill pool, despite Lib Dem promises. After all, this is what council officers had reported to the Hall Green constituency meeting on 19 January.

Councillor Mullaney now says this is untrue and has demanded that I correct my article before 5 pm today or I will face the wrath of the Standards Board. Instead of trying to silence me he should focus on the facts. 

We need Proportional Representation

Last night George Galloway MP made a powerful speech in the House of Commons in favour of changing our current voting system. He rightly criticizes the Constitutional Reform & Governance Bill for not nearly going far enough. Here are some of the highlights from his speech:

"The Government are making a big mistake if they think that this little broom is going to sweep clean the Augean stables in this place. The labours of Hercules and the diversion of great rivers were required to cleanse the stench of those stables, and this little broom—this tiny little reform—will not do it…

I am in favour of the kind of reforms that are beyond this House….That there is cynicism is obvious. The Government are in favour of a referendum on this—a voting system that no one in the country is talking about—but on nothing else. A referendum on the Lisbon treaty, which everyone in the country was talking about, was promised in the manifesto, but it was denied…

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Only a game?

Sporting icons have been getting a bit of a bad press recently, and for good reason. For an example of a real sporting hero, and a reminder of the redemptive power of sport, go see the movie ‘Invictus’. Directed by Clint Eastwood, it tells the remarkable tale of the South African victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

Set against a backdrop of a South Africa beset by economic problems and riven with division after 50 years of apartheid, Nelson Mandela, played brilliantly by Morgan Freeman, is grappling with the problem of how to unite the country. He sees an opportunity in the forthcoming rugby tournament hosted by South Africa, and finds an unusual ally in the team’s captain, Francois Pienaar.

South African rugby was for so long the exclusive preserve of whites and closely associated with the racist apartheid regime. So, Mandela’s call for the nation to rally round its rugby team created considerable tension among his own supporters. Pienaar has to wage a version of the same battle with his own team mates, so long used to viewing blacks as second class citizens and the new South African president as a ‘terrorist’.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Quiet Multiculturalism at work

Last night I attended a fundraising event for the Haitian earthquake disaster. The organisers, Birmingham Citizens and Islamic Relief, sold over 900 tickets and by the time I left over £30,000 had been raised. It brought home to me how much this catastrophe has touched everyone. And it also underlined how solidarity brings us together. The audience was very diverse, with people from all faith communities present. Speakers emphasised that the event was not about religion, or whether we shared the same faith – it was about our common humanity. Religious people sometimes think it is easier to appeal for support for others of the same faith. Last night disproved that myth. Islamic Relief have set themselves the target of raising £1million in aid for Haiti. Hats off to the organisers. It showed multicultural Birmingham working at its best.

Earlier that evening I visited the Qadri Trust Mosque in Sparkbrook. They had organized an open door community and cross-party event to celebrate the life of the Prophet Mohammed. The small mosque was crammed and the event was filmed by Noor TV. Again, what struck me about it was the extent to which people were reaching out to others of different faith and race backgrounds. Our Lord Mayor was there and I was happy to see Christian ministers Ray Gaston and Toby Howath there too. My experience is that mosque committees are working harder to reach out to their non-Muslim neighbours. It is essential that that work continues and deepens if barriers are to be broken down. Qadri Trust Mosque is setting a good example to others.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Are you listening, Richard Branson?

With climate change looming over us, one thing we must achieve is to shift our transport system from private and polluting to public and green. I am not alone in valuing the freedom and flexibility I get from owning a car. But there are plenty of occasions when I would rather let the 'train take the strain', and other occasions when would if I could.

To have the freedom to jump onto any weekday Virgin train from Birmingham to London will cost an eye-watering £140 return! Avoiding the rush hour used to be a way of getting the cost down to something that didn't require a second mortgage. But not only have the prices gone up, the 'peak' hours have been extended.

As a society, we need more people to swap their car for the train. But we then hand over our train network to private companies whose first concern is getting a return for their shareholders. The end result is a pricing system that seems to be deliberately designed to force us onto the roads.

The first off-peak Virgin train from Birmingham New Street to London is now as late as 10.10am – not getting into Euston until 11.34. A short day trip isn't so easy either – to get a reasonable fare you'll have to hang around until 19.03 and won't be home until 20.27. And when you do get on a Virgin train, it is not uncommon to find the standard carriages packed and the first class ones practically empty. They always give you the option of upgrading to first class of course – for an extra £15.

When my children ask to visit their cousins in London, I'll be counting the cost before giving my answer. Surely, any rational approach to transport should be based on making it as easy as possible for all of us to use less polluting alternatives? Tell that to Virgin Trains.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Breaking the siege of Gaza

The people of Gaza have been subjected to a brutal economic blockade. The situation is so bad Israel's actions were described in the United Nations-sponsored Goldstone report as a form of ‘collective punishment’ against the entire population.

The recent Viva Palestina convoy successfully broke that blockade last month. And I am proud of them for doing so. They brought over 500 people from 17 countries and 250 trucks and ambulances full of humanitarian supplies like generators, baby milk and medicine to the besieged Gaza strip. In the process they incurred the wrath of the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt, who have a long history of collusion in the oppression of the Palestinians. Egyptian police brutally attacked the convoy, the Egyptian government expelled its leader, George Galloway, who has been banned from the country, and they have announced they will not allow any more aid convoys travel on their soil either.

Well, as Tony Blair discovered, George is not a man easily silenced or intimidated. His response to the ban was to say he will be back to celebrate in the streets of Cairo with the Egyptian people when Mubarak and his torturers are gone! And already he has put in motion plans for the next convoy. This time it will be by sea. Viva Palestina has huge support in Turkey and negotiations are underway for a flotilla of ships from all over the world to sail from Turkey, with the support of the Turkish government, and under its flag. I fully intend to be going with them.

bring your pots and pans!

Birmingham City Council is planning vicious job cuts. Up to 1400 jobs could go, many of them very low paid. Staff at our nurseries, leisure services, neighbourhood offices and libraries are under threat.
One of the reasons the council is in a financial mess is because of money wasted on consultants. Another £67 million is to be spent this year alone. A council spokesperson has dismissed concerns about this extraordinary waste of money. It is ‘a drop in the ocean’ they say, in the context of a £3 billion budget. I would like to see them say that to community groups in my ward starved of funding, or families stuck for years on housing waiting lists because the council is not building enough homes.
These cutbacks will be justified as essential belt-tightening. But City Council Chief Executive, Stephen Hughes, enjoyed an 18.2% pay increase between 2006/7 and 2007/8 and is on a very nice £3,900 per week. The Birmingham Post reported that he’s now a member of the “£200,000+ per year club”. Council bosses should get a taste of their own medicine.
All the more reason to apply as much pressure as possible in advance of the council meeting that will set the annual budget. A number of local trade unions have called for a protest, and they want to make it a noisy one, so bring your pots and pans!

See you there.

Protest at Council Cuts, Tuesday 23 February, 4pm – 6pm, Birmingham Council House, Victoria Square. Called by UNISON, UNITE, GMB, UCATT, AMICUS.

Photo: Balsall Heath dinner ladies

Friday, 5 February 2010

‘an apartheid state par excellence’

Earlier this week I wrote about Ben White’s recent book on Israeli apartheid. Any comparison with apartheid South Africa has always been hotly contested by supporters of Israel. I was surprised therefore to read that Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, is issuing stark warnings that without a political solution in which the Palestinian people were allowed their own independent state, Israel could end up ‘an apartheid state par excellence’. (Independent, 3 February). The very fact he is talking about the need for peace reflects concern about growing international pressure. This pressure needs to be intensified. Earlier this year, Naomi Klein ran through the arguments for and against a movement for boycotts and disinvestment, based on the experience of the international movement to boycott apartheid South Africa. And there are many things we can do. Respect councillors in Sparkbrook have been campaigning in our ward for a boycott of Israeli dates. It’s a small contribution, but so far we are the only elected political figures in the city to make it. 

Thursday, 4 February 2010

‘We want a community pool run by the community'

Over 100 people packed into the Sparkhill Cultural Centre last night to discuss the future of Sparkhill baths. As expected, it was a lively event. Residents were angry that the pool has been shut for nearly two years. They were very concerned about any talk of a PFI option. And they became even more vociferous in their opposition when Cllr Mullaney revealed that it would be 2013 before any PFI option could be completed. As one resident said to loud applause: ‘We want a community pool run by the community and not private shareholders’. When put to a vote not a single person in the room voted for the PFI option.

Cllr Mullany claimed that the council was legally obligated to put all possible options out to public consultation. This was contested by myself and local MP Roger Godsiff. But even if what he says turns out to be true, I argued there is no reason that we cannot set a timetable for such consultation. It could be conducted within an eight week period or less. The feeling of the meeting was that the claim about consultation was a ruse, designed to drag the issue past the general election so as not to undermine the chances of Lib Dem Hall Green general election candidate Jerry Evans.

If that is their intention, and I believe it to be, I can tell you now; it won’t work.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Lib Dems mislead public on Sparkhill Baths

Wednesday is always a hectic day, and this Wednesday will be no different. I have got an advice surgery this morning, visits to residents afterwards who can't make the surgery but need urgent help, kids to pick up, an article for the New Statesman to finish, dinner to cook, and an evening meeting about the future of Sparkhill baths. 

The Save Sparkhill Baths campaign is gathering speed, thanks to very good work being done by local activists. And what is clear is that the public are being misled by the Liberal Democrats. Following pressure from local residents supported by Respect councillors, the Lib Dems promised that £13m had been ‘approved’ and ‘allocated’ for rebuilding the Sparkhill baths at the Hall Green Constituency committee meeting of 22nd December 2009. They then leafleted the area proclaiming 'Lib Dems save Sparkhill Baths!' But the our last meeting on 19th January shocked residents were told that funding had NOT been allocated! Sparkhill baths was not saved after all.

Since then Lib Dem Cabinet Member for Leisure, Sport and Culture, Cllr Mullaney, has even said that turning the pool site into a car park would be a “sensible idea”! As an alternative he is pushing the idea of a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) built pool at Moseley School. I challenged him in yesterday's council meeting about this and he was forced to admit that the money had never been allocated for Sparkhill. Local residents are angry that while Sparkhill, a very deprived area, has been denied the use of its local pool for nearly two years, the Tory/Lib Council have had no compulsion is authorising the spending of millions to refurbish the pool in leafy Harborne, which has not been closed at all.

Saving Sparkhill pool is a critical battle for the residents of Sparkhill and surrounding areas. The dishonesty of the Lib Dems on this issue is a disgrace. I expect there to be fireworks about that tonight.

The meeting is at 6.45pm on Wednesday at Sparkhill Social and Cultural Centre on Stratford Rd, next to the swimming baths. 

'Slap on the wrist'

White phosphorus is a particularly nasty weapon of war. It sticks to the skin and can burn through to the bone. The particles continue to burn unless deprived of oxygen. Even if extinguished by water, they can reignite when dried out. Its use against civilians is prevented by Protocol III of the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons.

It is indicative of the contempt with which the Israeli military hold Palestinian lives that those found guilty of using it during last year’s brutal assault on Gaza have been reprimanded with just a 'slap on the wrist'.
Like millions of people around the world, I get angry at the injustice the Palestinians have to endure. The question is: what to do with that anger?

Ben White provides some answers. I was lucky enough to meet him on his recent trip to Birmingham. His book ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide’ (Pluto Press 2009) is an invaluable resource. Meticulously researched, yet succinctly and accessibly written, it makes the charge that while there are differences between Israel and apartheid South Africa, the similarities are such that both belong in the same infamous racist category.

Ben argues that Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement, the evictions of Palestinians from their land, and the settler privilege maintained by military oppression, recall apartheid South Africa’s pass laws, Bantustans, and brutal white supremacy. And just as apartheid South Africa was the subject of international sanctions for its racism, Ben argues so too should Israel.

The international anti-apartheid movement played a pivotal role in turning apartheid South Africa into a pariah state in the eyes of the world. We must do likewise in the case of Israel. A new generation are entering into Palestinian solidarity - the recent Gaza protests were the largest of its kind in this country. Following the historic success of the Viva Palestina convoy in temporarily breaking the siege, and the decision of the TUC to support the boycott Israel call, this handbook does not only educate; it points to how people can channel their anger into effective and peaceful political strategies.

Buy it, read it, and tell your friends about it!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Mind the gap

A government-sponsored panel on equality last week highlighted that the gap between rich and poor is wider now than 40 years ago.

This is, in large part, an indictment of Labour’s own record. It came to power promising a fairer society. And it is likely to leave power having seen the rich get richer. It took important steps forward, such as the introduction of the minimum wage, but ultimately failed to put an end to the most obvious areas of unfairness.

Decades after women won the right to equal pay, women are still paid up to 20% an hour less than men, despite frequently having better educational qualifications. And while there have been real improvements in the educational performance of black and Asian children the continuing inequality in the workplace has not been reversed.

An obsession with individualism and the expansion of individual wealth seems to be squeezing out concerns about advancing society as a whole. The dog-eat-dog approach hasn’t led to a better, more harmonious society. The more unequal our society, the less we feel connected to each other.

The cause of equality may not be as popular as it once was. But we would do well to remember that there is a wealth of evidence to show that more equal societies are happier societies.

I find it morally objectionable that the wealthiest 1% own 21% of the nation's wealth. And for all the Daily Mail headlines about asylum seekers defrauding the welfare state, it remains the case that ‘15 times as much money is lost through tax avoidance at the top than is lost to benefit fraud at the bottom’.

British politics needs a renewed commitment to making society more fair and equal.

Monday, 1 February 2010

George Galloway on Question Time

This is one I will be glued to my TV for.

George Galloway will be appearing on BBC 1’s Question Time this Thursday at 10.35pm. The show is being broadcast from Coventry. Other guests are Clare Short, Lord Falconer and Melanie Phillips.

I was absolutely livid watching the soft ride Blair got at the Chilcot Inquiry, and at the arrogance he displayed throughout.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown gives a good flavour of the anger very many of us felt in today’s Independent:

“I wanted to be there, to look into the opaque eyes of our ex-Prime Minister, shake his obscene complacency and moral smugness, meet head on his disdain for international law, evidence, citizens of both Britain and Iraq. I discussed these reactions on Sky News and afterwards was driven back by an Algerian driver, who confessed he too had to stop watching from time to time, to calm down the storm building up inside his head. Neither of us is Iraqi. Imagine now what it must have felt like if you were, and like millions of them, against the war.”

Well, this Thursday George, and Clare, will be our voices. I will be cheering them both on.