Friday, 31 December 2010

Police have to win trust for new powers

According to reports in the Guardian, the police are asking for new powers to stop and search people without the need to suspect them of any involvement in crime. We are entitled to ask whether the police can be trusted with such exceptional powers.

There is no doubt that the police have a difficult job to do. Faced with a possibly devastating terrorist attack in a crowded location, it might be necessary for all of us to accept that they need the ability to stop and search anyone they choose, for any reason. In those situations we would have to trust the police to act only when truly necessary, and to do so effectively and fairly.

Unfortunately, recent experience suggests we should be careful before giving the police too many powers. After all they are asking for new powers because the previous legislation – Section 44 of the Terrorism Act – was so grossly misused that European judges ruled it unlawful.

More than 100,000 people were stopped under Section 44 in 2009. Not a single one of these stops led to an arrest for terrorism. Those being stopped were disproportionately from black and minority ethnic communities. On top of that, Section 44 was used against photographers and peaceful protestors. This type of discriminatory and disproportionate policing does not make us safer, but simply generates anger and distrust among law-abiding members of the community.

Here in Birmingham we are only just getting over the fiasco of the now discredited spy camera operation. This too was an issue of trust and accountability, and the police fell a long way short on that occasion.

If the police are going to make the case for additional powers, they need to show that they have learned the lessons from these failures. They have some way to go.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

The Queen's question

After listening to an lecture on the financial crisis at the prestigious London School of Economics in November 2008, the Queen somewhat impertinently asked, 'how come nobody could foresee it?'

How come indeed. In his new book, '23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism' Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang provides some answers.

Chief among them is that for the last 30 years we have been blinded by endless propaganda from economist and politician alike about how free market capitalism is the best way to organise society.

Like a religious mantra it has been drummed into our heads that, if subject to only the lightest regulation, markets are inherently self correcting and guaranteed to ensure the most optimum and efficient allocation of resources.

Chang demonstrates this is nonsense. He dismantles myth after myth about how capitalism actually works as opposed to how we are led to believe it works. Again and again he illustrates a conviction, learned the hard way by our ancestors during the 1930's, that it was in the public interest that market capitalism be regulated.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Unemployment is a nightmare

I was horrified to see the headline in today’s Birmingham Mail that read “Unemployed young are ‘likely to self harm’".

Reporting the results of a survey for the Princes Trust, the article says:

 “Disturbing figures have revealed the devastating effects of unemployment on Birmingham’s youngsters – with nearly a quarter admitting they have self-harmed while out of work.”

The survey found that almost half of unemployed young people had experienced serious mental health problems as a result of being out of work. And more than 1 in 10 said that unemployment had given them nightmares.

It is truly shocking to see evidence of such widespread distress among young people.

It is even more shocking because this is not the result of a natural disaster. It is a nightmare that is being deliberately inflicted on our young people by a government intent on a programme of social and economic vandalism.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

We are those lions, Mr Manager

Jayaben Desai, who led the historic strikes at Grunwick in the 1970s, has died aged 77. I was only a young girl when the events that made her famous took place, but I have been inspired by reading of her brave and determined stand for justice.

Grunwick was a film processing factory in London, mainly employing Asian women who were recent immigrants from East Africa. The managers thought they could easily see off demands to recognise a union. But Jayben Desai was not so easily intimidated. She told them to their face: “What you are running here is not a factory, it is a zoo. In a zoo, there are many types of animals. Some are monkeys who dance on your fingertips, others are lions who can bite your head off. We are those lions, Mr Manager."

Despite solidarity from across the country, the strike was eventually defeated after more than two years. But Desai remained defiant to the end. In one of her last public statements, she told the Guardian: "I am proud of what I did...They wanted to break us down, but we did not break."

Her life is an example to us all. May she rest in peace.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Wiki leaks v Street protests: Which is more powerful?

Professor Alex Callinicos, right wing commentator Peter Hitchins & David Babbs of 38 Degrees take part in interesting exchange on BBC 3's Night Waves programme about which form of protest is most effective: street protests or the net? It is still available to listen to here.

As Alex says, it's a false choice, especially considering the role of social network sites in helping organise the recent student protests, and he convincingly makes the case for street protests in the face of those who seek to dismiss them.

As support for the ConDem coalition falls "dramatically" in the wake of the student protests and the direct actions against businesses who avoid their tax, it is all the more reason to step up the campaign on the net and on the streets.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Pink Power

Top prize for Christmas Day TV has to go to 'Pink Saris', part of the More 4 India week. Set in Uttar Pradesh, Northern India, it is an absorbing documentary about the 'Pink Gang'; so-called 'untouchable' Indian women refusing to abide by the caste system.

The film focuses on the Pink Gang leader, Sampat Pal, as she goes about her work. Married at 12, she was forced out of her village for disobeying her inlaws. Disowned by her family, Sampat found herself on the streets, forced to raise her young children alone. It is from her own suffering that her empathy for other women in similar situations comes from. She combines a big heart with boundless courage and determination to campaign on behalf of the women who arrive at her door, often suicidal from domestic violence and rape.

Whether it is the police, or a violent husband (whose jaw drops at the mouthful of abuse heaped on him) or a rapist father-in-law, Sampat is utterly fearless as she confronts abusive men. She is determined that they feel the force of the law for inflicting violence on women and driven by the belief that women have the right to marry who they want.

The documentary flits from scenes that are by turn funny, inspiring and heart breaking. The suffering of the women would soften the hardest male heart and, understandably, decades of dealing with it has exacted a toll on Sampat and her relationship. Yet it is from her own experiences, and sense of indignation at the injustice of the suffering of others, that she finds the strength to go on. In doing so, she inspires and empowers others. The hope in the film lies in womens ability to resist, struggle and survive. When the caste system is finally confined to history's dump where it belongs, it will be because of the struggles of Sampat Pal, and thousands of women like her.

Well done Channel 4 for a remarkable piece of television.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Happy Christmas!

The Respect councillors in Sparkbrook - myself, Mohammed Ishtiaq, and Shokat Ali - wish you all a very happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

Pictured: Salma Yaqoob and Mohammed Ishtiaq (Shokat Ali was unwell when this photograph was taken, so get well soon Shokat!)

Friday, 24 December 2010

Christians in Iraq

Wednesday's Channel Four News report on the plight of Iraq's Christians made for sad viewing. This is a community that has existed in the region for 2,000 years. Some of them still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Yet their very future is under threat.

Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq the size of its Christian community has literally halved. While unfavorable demographics and immigration are contributing factors, thousands more have been forced to seek refuge abroad as sectarian religious hatred has made their lives unbearable.

The primary responsibility for this exodus lies with Al Qaeda and their ilk. It is they who are planting the bombs in Churches; it is they who are murdering priests and worshippers; and it is they who seek to sow the seeds of religious hatred. Their intention is clear. They intend to attack Christians 'wherever they can be reached' and fully intend to 'open upon them the doors of destruction and rivers of blood."

It is too simplistic to describe what is taking place as a Muslim-Christian conflict or a 'clash of civilizations'. The vast majority of those fleeing Iraq seek refuge in Muslim majority countries elsewhere in the Middle East. And there is a long history of religious coexistence and tolerance in the region.

But it undeniably the case that the invasion of Iraq has stoked the flames of religious hatred and provided a fertile breeding ground for those hate filled agendas. As William Dalrymple notes, it is ironic that a war championed by self avowed Christians in Bush and Blair, and described as a 'crusade' by one of them, has 'created the environment that led to the destruction of Christianity in one of its ancient heartlands – something Arab, Mongol and Ottoman conquests all failed to pull off'.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Unemployed need investment, not cuts

At the recent Sparkbrook Ward Committee there were thoughtful and impassioned contributions from the public about the levels of unemployment and poor job opportunities in the ward.

Unfortunately, this is the picture across large swathes of the country. A new report from the TUC says that the unemployed outnumber vacancies by more than 5 to 1 in many areas of the UK.

With thousands more facing redundancies in the new year, that situation is set to get worse.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

What is our government doing about abuses in Bangladesh and Kashmir?

Wikileaks is providing a huge public service in highlighting the complicity of governments in human rights abuses, as the latest reports about Bangladesh and Kashmir illustrate.

According to today's Guardian the British government are involved in training what human rights organisations describe as 'Latin American style death squads' in Bangladesh.  The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) has a notorious reputation. It kills and tortures with impunity and, allegedly, is responsible for 1,000 murders in the last 6 years. The Guardian says 'the cables make clear that British training for RAB officers began three years ago under the last Labour government' and that British officials had provided training as recently as October.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Len McCluskey is right

Yesterday, Len McCluskey called on his trade union colleagues to discuss coordinated strike action to stop the government's 'austerity frenzy'. He also called for a coalition of resistance to unite trade unionists, students and service users. It makes sense to me. How else can an ideologically inspired attempt to destroy the welfare state be stopped without resistance on the broadest possible scale?

But some of the reaction to his interview has been very revealing.

Government officials weighed in with new threats to tighten anti-union legislation. They suggested that a legal strike should only be possible if a majority of union members vote for it, regardless of whether they chose to take part in the ballot or not. The double standards are breathtaking. This is a government that nobody voted for, in an election in which 35% of the electorate did not feel inspired enough to vote at all. Yet this is apparently a mandate to destroy the welfare state, and millions of jobs along with it.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Stopping 'austerity frenzy'

I was very heartened by this interview with Len McCluskey, the newly elected leader of the UNITE union, in which he outlines his determination to work with students to undermine the government's 'austerity frenzy'.

Our ability to do so will stand or fall on whether we can forge a coalition of resistance: one the unites the trade unions, students, and the general public.

To that end the TUC’s national demonstration on 26 March is a critical event. Building the demo, and ensuring the largest turnout from Birmingham, will be central to my work in the new year.

Education plans fail the economic test

When the Tories are challenged on their devastating cuts programme they will deny it is an ideological choice and insist the cuts are necessary to reduce the budget deficit. Why are they so shy about revealing the truth about their plans?

One reason is that spending on health, education and keeping people working is generally popular. Most people understand it is something that makes our society a better place to live. So, the Tories would rather frighten people with talk of future generations burdened by a national debt that is out of control.

But almost every cut they make can be show to have the opposite effect. Cutting back on investment in education and jobs will invariably lead to a widening deficit. Investment, on the other hand, will almost always pay dividends by generating economic growth and reducing the deficit.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The psychology of a suicide bomber

Coming hot on the heels of the Stockholm suicide bombing, the Wikileaks cables expressing misgivings about PREVENT have reignited debate about the appeal of violent extremism in the Muslim community.

I was not surprised by the critical comments about PREVENT. I made most of them myself at the time.

PREVENT lacked transparency, was a gravy train for self appointed community consultants, and evaded addressing the fundamental issue; politics as the principal driver for those engaged in suicide bombing.

This latter fact has been proven again and again yet our politicians are reluctant to admit it, because to do so is to admit their culpability. Yet the academic evidence is conclusive.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Respect win Tower Hamlets by-election

Congratulations to the Respect party in Tower Hamlets and their newly elected councillor, Fozol Miah. Councillor Miah won the by-election yesterday for the Spitalfieds & Banglatown ward.

Respect polled 666 votes, Labour 553, Tory 135, Greens 52, Lib Dems 33, Indep 28. The Lib Dem vote is shockingly bad and hopefully a taster of what is in store for them at the ballot box.

Well done to Fozol and all the Respect Tower Hamlets team on their victory!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Balsall Heath has got talent!

Last night I attended Balsall Heath Forum's Christmas event. It was a fantastic evening, with over 150 people from the local community  sharing in a great meal and taking part in carol singing.

For me the evening was an opportunity to meet old friends and make some new ones. I enjoyed being part of the 'choir' and was pleased to be asked to present awards to some of the Forum's dedicated volunteers.

I was especially moved by the touching words expressed from the compare to my Respect colleague Councillor Ishtiaq in recognition of the hard work he does, and for his fundraising efforts on behalf of the hospital where his newly born child is receiving medical treatment.

All in all, it was a lovely night. I think we should have Christmas all year round!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Keep our children's centres open

Over 50 people attended last night's ward committee. The impact of the cuts loomed large, especially with the news that the Children's Centre at the Mutha Trust (also known as the Bordesley Centre) is threatened with closure.

This is a fantastic resource which provides 150 places. The centre
 runs a breakfast club, parenting and ante-natal courses, literacy classes, lone parent and benefits advice, fathers football sessions and lots more.

The Tories made many promises before the last election about protecting family life. Just this week David Cameron stated his intention to make Britain the most 'family friendly country in Europe'. The reality is that his government's spending cuts will only undermine family stability.

The Mutha Trust's Children's Centre must be kept open.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Sparkbrook Ward Committee tonight

Tonight I will be attending the Sparkbrook Ward Committee. Top of the agenda will be the impact of government cuts to council spending which will hit poorest areas hardest. Birmingham could lose up to £105m from next year's budget. The meeting starts at 6.30pm at the Sparkbrook Family Centre, 31 Farm Road, B11 1LT. Come along and take part in the discussion about the cuts, and what we can do to resist them.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Faiths unite after attack on Stoke mosque

Faith leaders across Stoke-on-Trent have come together in a show of solidarity after an attempt to blow up a mosque.

Members of North Staffs Forum of Faith were among those that met at the Muslim Welfare and Community Association at Hanley's Equality House yesterday. They then walked across to the mosque in Regent Road, which was the target of an arson attack last Friday.

Arsonists connected a hose pipe to the gas supply of a nearby empty house before feeding it through a window at the Hanley mosque which is still under construction. Rubbish was then set alight on the ground floor, seemingly in an attempt to trigger an explosion. Read more here.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

One Society Many Cultures national conference

Later today I will be speaking at the One Society Many Cultures national conference where the issues being discussed include:

• Reversing the tide of reaction – racism and Islamophobia today
• No racist concessions to the BNP and EDL
• Defending our freedoms – no to religious bans
• One Society Many Cultures

Speakers include Ken Livingstone(chair, One Society Many Cultures), Shabana Mahmood (shadow Home Office minister), Christine Blower (general secretary, National Union of Teachers), Dr Jonathan Githens-Mazer (co-director, European Muslim Research Centre), Doreen Lawrence (founder, Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust) and Kay Carberry (assistant general secretary, TUC).

The event runs from 10-6pm and will be held at Mary Ward House, 5/7 Tavistock Place, London WC1H 9SN. It promises to be an interesting and worthwhile day. I am speaking at around 2pm.

Friday, 10 December 2010


Open letter signed by: John Pilger journalist and filmmaker Lindsey German Stop the War Coalition Iain Banks author Roger Lloyd Pack actor Salma Yaqoob Birmingham councillor Craig Murray former UK ambassador Yvonne Ridley journalist Caryl Churchill playwriteMark Thomas comedian A L Kennedy author Celia Mitchell actor Alexei Sayle comedian and author Miriam Margoylyes actor David Gentleman artist Ben Griffin former British soldier Katharine Hamnett designer Terry Jones comedian and writer Andy Delatour actor

e protest at the attacks on Wikileaks and in particular on Julian Assange.
The leaks have assisted democracy in revealing the real views of our governments over a range of issues which have been kept secret, and which are now irreversibly in the public domain.
Everything we knew about the mass killing, torture and corruption in Iraq and Afghanistan has been confirmed.
The world's leaders can no longer hide the truth by simply lying to the public.
The lies themselves have been exposed.
The actions of major corporations such as Amazon, the Swiss banks and the credit card companies in hindering Wikileaks, are shameful, bowing as they do to pressure from the US government.
The US government and its allies, and their friends in the media, have built up a campaign against Assange which now sees him in prison facing extradition on dubious charges, with the presumed eventual aim of ensuring his extradition to the US.
We demand his immediate release, the dropping of all charges, and an end to the censorship of Wikileaks.
For more info contact Stop the War Coalition.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Best wishes to students protesting today! Don't let the liars off the hook!

Check out the The Report tonight

Last week I was interviewed by a journalist from the BBC's Report team as part of a programme looking into some of the issues raised by the Phil Woolas case, in particular the use of dirty tricks to deceive the public. The programme is broadcast tonight at 8pm on Radio 4.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Democracy closed down

Paranoia seeks to have gripped Birmingham city council since a few dozen students briefly occupied the council chamber last week. Protesters who turned up yesterday to exercise their democratic right to lobby councillors before the monthly full council meeting found themselves facing a heavily stewarded, and closed, Council House. Even members of the public who wished to sit in the public gallery were asked to open their coats and jackets before entry to ensure they were not carrying concealed…'pamphlets'.

Inside, it was more of the same. Any mention of the tuition fees issue received nervous, evasive and, frankly, ridiculous answers from council leader Mike Whitby. When I asked my question (below) his reply was only to say it was beyond his remit to answer questions on national policy. This is unacceptable. The city council routinely lobbies national government on a wide range of policy questions. In acting like this, the council leader appears to be contemptuous of the concerns of many thousands of young people and their parents. What was striking about the council meeting was how uncomfortable the Tories and Lib Dems were; how desperate they were to avoid any debate.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Well said Susan Phillipsz!

The artist Susan Phillpsz was awarded the Turner Prize last night, accompanied by dozens of student protestors who had occupied Tate Britain in protest at government cuts to the arts in higher education.

The prize-winning artist then used her acceptance speech to nail her colours to the mast, saying “education is not a privilege but a right...I think it’s harder to have an education because of the cuts and I support what they are fighting for.”

Contrast that to the response of Birmingham Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming. His constituency office was occupied for a few hours by student protestors. Never a man to underestimate his own importance, Hemming raised himself to new heights of pomposity by declaring he was “very likely” to vote for the tuition fee increase, “simply because we cannot reward the bad behaviour from today”.

Something tells me that John Hemming’s desire to “punish” student protestors for being so uppity might come back to haunt him. Let’s hope the only punishment to be inflicted will be by voters on the Liberal Democrats at the ballot box.

Campaign to Retain our School Services

Thanks Julia Kossowska from the Campaign to Retain our School Services for the letter below.

I am writing to express my concerns about Birmingham City Council’s proposed cuts to the central education services in Birmingham.  These services make a real difference to the children and young people of Birmingham and a significant contribution to school improvement in Birmingham schools. I believe that the proposals are to take these services out of the public sector and for this provision become a private company or co-operative.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Tip of the iceberg

I welcome the news that Phil Woolas has given up the fight to hold on to his seat. He has been found guilty of lying about an opponent, fined £5,000, and banned from standing for election for three years. Woolas has been kicked out of the Labour party and his career in politics is almost certainly finished.

Phil Woolas's crime was a serious one. But bad as lying about an opponent is, his is culpable of something much worse in my view; deliberately inflaming racial and religious tensions for political gain.

For anybody aware of Woolas's history, it was no great surprise that he produced lying and racially loaded leaflets during his campaign.  He had form in this regard. And he was promoted inside Labour for exactly this reason. Woolas was Labour's hard man on immigration. The Labour hierarchy was well aware of his general election campaign. Ed Miliband had seen the leaflets. His response was to appoint Woolas shadow immigration minister.

Woolas's case highlights the dirty reality of Labour's politics on race. When in power they concocted a lethal cocktail of pandering to anti-Muslim and asylum seeker prejudice with failure to meet the aspirations of its poorer, working class supporters. The consequence, stoked daily by blatantly racist sections of the media, has been to make more fertile the ground from which the violent extremists of the BNP and the EDL can grow.

Good riddance to Phil Woolas. But if we want cleaner political air, decontaminated of the stench of racism that so pervades it, Labour needs to face up to its culpability. The case of Phil Woolas should provide pause for self-reflection. Unfortunately, I fear it won't.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Help Adam raise money for St Basils

Adam Yosef, the man responsible for all those wonderful videos during my election campaign, is braving the freezing weather tonight in support of the homeless.

Adam is raising money for St Basils through their Big Sleep Out event and will be roughing it in the cold in a cardboard box and sleeping bag for 12 hours.

Please donate whatever you can to help the cause and make the event a success for the vulnerable people St Basils works with.

You can donate via Adam’s online page here.

The page will remain online for at least a month after the event so feel free to donate after today if you can. Please share this link with others too and can help Adam raise a minimum target of £150.

There is more about St Basils and the Big Sleep Out here.

Well done Adam, make sure to wrap up tight!

Celebrate peace and goodwill with Palestinian street art

Street art has become a vital part of the Palestinians' creative resistance to the Israeli siege of Gaza. Philosophy Football's latest design is based on a mural painted on the side of a wall at Ramal (the returners) refugee camp in Latakia, Syria. The camp is made up mainly of Palestinian families first expelled by force from Acre in 1948. Produced to help raise profile and funds for the aide convoys to Gaza organised by Viva Palestina. The design is also available as a limited edition superbly original print. Whatever our faith, or none, the ideal way to celebrate seasons of peace and goodwill. Available from Philosophy Football.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Students abandon Lib Dems

...but turn up to their London conference

According to a YouGov poll, university students have abandoned the Liberal Democrats in huge numbers, amidst massive support for the campaign against tuition fees and cuts. 

In May, YouGov found 45% of students supported the Lib Dems. This has plummeted to just 15% today.

There is also very strong support for the campaign against tuition fees. The government’s plans are opposed by 78% of students, with just 14% supporting them.

And 85% sympathised with the demonstration that ended up inside the Tory Party headquarters (including 27% who supported the direct action against the Tory headquarters).

On Saturday, many of these students will have the opportunity to tell the Liberal Democrats exactly why they can never be trusted again.  Large numbers are expected to assemble outside the Lib Dems London conference for a peaceful protest organised by the Free Education Campaign.

Students are asked to assemble at 12noon on Saturday 4 December at Haverstock School, Haverstock Hill, London NW3 2BQ (nearest tube, Chalk farm).

The facebook page for the event is here 

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Anti Cuts Meetings & Protests

Thanks to my friend Mary Pearson for this useful round-up of forthcoming anti-cuts activities.

Thur 2 Dec 7.30pm Birmingham Trades Union Council Meeting
Council House Victoria Square B1 1BB (Visitors Welcome)

Guest Speaker: Tony Richardson on The Automotive Industry

Motion: “BTUC welcomes the formation of “Birmingham Against the Cuts”.
It agreed to support its campaign work in opposing Birmingham City Council cuts, welfare and pensions cuts
and cuts in jobs and services”

There will also be reports on current campaigns and workplace report

BTUC meets every 1st Thur of Month except May (2nd Thu) & Aug (No meeting)
Make sure your Trade Union Branch is affiliated

Contact BTUC 54 – 57 Allison Street Digbeth Birmingham B5 5TH  Tel: 0121-643-8668 Fax: 0121 643 3122  Email: Dave Dutton Secretary at

 Sat 4 Dec 1-3pm Trade Union Stalls & leafleting The Bull New Street

Tue 7 Dec 1pm   Lobby Birmingham City Council
Council House Victoria Square B1 1BB
Called by Birmingham Unison 0121 622 8700