Thursday, 30 September 2010

Police slammed by spy camera review

The review of the spy camera fiasco – otherwise known as Project Champion – has now been published. You can read the full report here.

The police are subject to some devastating criticism in the report, not least that “there was very little evidence of consideration being given to compliance with the legal or regulatory framework”.

I will be attending a meeting tonight at which the police will be presenting the findings to councillors. Some very hard questions will need to be asked of them. In particular, what steps will be taken to ensure that the individuals responsible for deceiving the community are made accountable for their actions?

I will also be repeating my view that the cameras must be removed as a first step to restoring trust between the police and the community.

Calling all students!

Next month, on Saturday 23rd October, I will be addressing the Progressive Students Conference in London.

It promises to be a really interesting event and provides an important opportunity to discuss the key issues facing young people today. Issues like youth unemployment which is approaching one million, soaring student debt, and savage cuts to vital public services which threaten to blight the futures of an entire generation.

The conference will also examine international issues, including challenging the growing racist tide sweeping Europe, opposing imperialism in the Middle East, supporting the inspiring social progress in Latin America, tackling climate change, and much more.  

I join very good company indeed. Ken Livingstone, Diane Abbott MP and the Deputy Leader of the Green Party Adrian Ramsay are amongst the impressive line up of speakers.

I would urge you all to support this excellent initiative. Check out www.progressivestudents.co.uk for further details of the speakers, sessions and how to register.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Viva Palestina convoy arrives in Turkey

The Viva Palestina convoy arrived in Turkey on Monday in the latest leg of their trip to Gaza. For the duration of their stay in Turkey the convoy is being hosted by the IHH Human Rights Foundation, which was the key organiser of the Gaza flotilla violently attacked by Israel this summer while on another mission to deliver humanitarian relief to the walled-off Gaza strip.

Ahmet Emin Dag, the Deputy Chairman of the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation said: “The goal of the convoy is to ship humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians and to attract the attention on the ongoing humanitarian tragedy there.”

Ron Mckay, the team leader of Gaza Europe Convoy, said they would visit the families of the nine Turks killed by the Israelis during their assault on the Mavi Marmara ship.

The convoy will depart from Turkey on October 1 and proceed to Syria, where it will transfer to ships, travel to Egypt, and proceed to enter Gaza via the Refah border gate. It is hoped the convoy will arrive in Gaza mid-October and by that time it is expected to be 150-200 vehicles strong.

My thoughts, prayers and best wishes are with all those taking part.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

An injury to one is an injury to all

It has been brought to my attention that a prominent Respect member in Tower Hamlets has made antisemitic remarks.

I can't stand racism. It rots the core of our humanity. It is the tool of those who seek to divide and rule. It especially angers me when people who have been victims of bigotry themselves, and who know what that feels like, make bigoted remarks against others. I won't tolerate it, and neither will the Respect party.

I completely endorse the decision of our national officers to expel the member in question with immediate effect. We cannot give an inch to racism, prejudice, and intolerance, whether directed against Jews, Muslims, women, immigrants, the Roma community, homosexuals or any other section of society. Antisemitism has proven to be one of the most virulent forms of racism through the ages. It has to opposed whenever and wherever it raises its ugly head.

With racism set to increase as the full impact of the recession kicks in, we need to hold on even more tightly to the political wisdom and deep morality in the old trade union slogan 'an injury to one is an injury to all'.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Bus services under threat

At a time when climate change is high on the agenda, increasing the use of public transport is surely essential. So it is hard to believe that government policy could mean massive cuts in bus services in the West Midlands.

But both unions and management at National Express are claiming that spending cuts could mean a loss of £20 million, leading to a 10% cut in services and a 10% increase in fares.

Apparently the bus companies currently pay less for their fuel because they are providing a public service. The loss of the grant they get looks set to have a major impact on bus services.

It really is crazy to reduce bus services and force people to rely on cars when the world faces such a threat from global warming. This kind of upside down thinking, though, is what we’ve come to expect from the ConDem government. 

Although I very much want to see bus services maintained, I was struck by the comment from the National Express chief executive a few months ago. According to the Express and Star he said the firm’s “entire profit margin would be wiped out” if the grant was withdrawn. Losing their 6% profit apparently means the inevitable loss of bus services.

You do have to wonder whether we could provide better and cheaper bus services if we weren’t subsidising the profit making activities of private companies. But that really would turn the world upside down for the ConDems and the free market fundamentalists.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

It's not David

Let’s start with the good news. The new Labour leader is not David Miliband. By the narrowest of margins, Labour has decided not to elect the person who was ‘unrepentant’ about the Iraq war but who believes that Labour should raise the white flag in the face of the Tory war on public services.

And there’s more good news. Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, and the rest of the authoritarian, warmongering and privatising Blairites, have tasted another defeat. In fact, with Ken Livingstone having won a crushing victory over Oona King the day before to become Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London, the Blairites have not had a good week at all.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Justice for Gary Critchley

Today's Birmingham Mail leads with the case of Gary Critchley. Gary was jailed in 1981 for a crime he has always denied. He was convicted of murder despite the absence of any forensics linking him with the crime and the fact witness statements blaming someone else were never heard in court. Private Eye magazine said about his case that 'few miscarriages of justice appear to be as blatant as the case of Gary Critchley. How a jury ever found him guilty, how the appeal court upheld his conviction and how the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) can now refuse to send his case back for further consideration is extraordinary.'

Gary has spent 30 years in prison. This incarceration has taken a very toll on his mental health and Gary is now being detained in a prison hospital wing. Campaigners are calling for a urgent re-assessment of his conviction. Find out how you can support them here.

Well done to the Mail for bringing this obvious miscarriage of justice back into the public eye.

BBC Interview with Noam Chomsky

Check out the latest edition of BBC Radio 4’s programme Americana: inside the USA. It carries a short but typically fascinating interview with Noam Chomsky in which he discusses the Tea Party, similarities between America today and late Weimer Germany, the collapse of centre politics and more. You can download the podcast here. The interview is near the end of the programme.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Aaifa Siddiqui sentenced to 86 years

It has been a bad week for human rights in the United States. Last night Teresa Lewis, a woman described as being 'borderline mentally retarded', was killed by lethal injection in the state of Virginia. She was the first woman to be executed in Virginia since 1912. On Wednesday another woman suffered at the hands of the American penal system. Aafia Siddiqui has not been killed by the American state. She has been given a living death sentence instead.

The Pakistani neuroscientist has been jailed for 86 years - on charges that this disturbed mother of three tried to kill US agents and military officers after allegedly snatching a rifle from one of her interrogators. There are two facts about this claim we know for sure. The only person shot was Aaifa,  and her were fingerprints never found on the alleged weapon. Aaifa's arrest took place against a background in which it was alleged she was an Al-Qaida agent plotting an attack. Part of the evidence being provided by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. His claims are highly suspect, especially considering he was water-boarded 183 times by the CIA in a single month. Despite the claims, Aaifa was not found guilty of plotting any Al-Qaida style attack.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Hot air

It does not take much political courage these days to lay into the banks. Even children know many of our bankers are lucky not to find themselves in jail for their irresponsibility so it is easy for politicians to crank up the indignation. Vince Cable's speech is a case in point. It was high on rhetoric but short on content. As Michael White commented, there was not much in the speech that the Financial Times would have disagreed with. And on the banks, after you take out some name calling, there is very little left.

Yet two years after the collapse of Lehman's Bank, the event that triggered the global financial crisis, all the factors inherent in the banking system responsible for the crisis are still very much in place. The banks have shamelessly taken public money while resisting regulation. The appointment of Bob Diamond, the 'poster boy for casino capitalism' as the new chief executive of Barclays is evidence, if more was needed, that they really don't give a damn what the public think because they feel that no matter what, they are indispensable. Well, they are not, as the New Political Economy Network point out in their excellent e-book.

Banking in Britain delivers very little social benefit for the economy. Between 1996 and 2008, while all those profits were being made, productive business investment remained at a steady 10 per cent of GDP, and lending to manufacturing was flat. In other words, banks – as they currently operate – do not allocate capital usefully in our economy…Banking has become an industry that makes money only for itself. Ever expanding, and entangling banks in a state of mutually assured destruction, it concentrates wealth in a few hands. It is a kind of transaction-generating machine that operates in its own interests….Market fundamentalism has created a crisis of economic coordination, and this is an important aspect of the financial crisis. Too much capital is allocated to leveraged and unsustainable asset- price growth.Too little is channelled into productive, socially useful investment that might generate sustainable economic growth.

Double standards on human rights

Last month I took part in a protest to highlight the plight of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian women facing the death penalty by stoning. Her case has rightly attracted international attention and it appears the protests have been effective in saving her life. There is more than a touch of double standards though from some of those who have championed Ms Ashtiani and espouse human rights abroad, especially as a stick with which to beat foreign governments, while ignoring human rights abuses in the West.

I was reminded of this as news came through that the US Supreme Court has upheld the right of the state of Virgina to execute Teresa Lewis. She was convicted of hiring two men to kill her ex-husband and stepson with the intention of collecting an insurance payout. After her trial it came out that Teresa has an IQ of 72, near the level of intellectual disability, and also suffered from a dependent personality disorder. There are strong suggestions she was manipulated by her lover, ‘a petty criminal with ambitions of being a professional hit-man who boasted to friends that he was the real mastermind of the murder plot.’

Since America re-introduced the death penalty in 1977 1,226 people have been killed. Campaigners against it highlight the fact those executed are overwhelmingly black and poor. 42% of prisoners on death row are African America, despite comprising only 12% of the U.S. population. And if you can afford good representation, you won’t end up on death row. Teresa couldn’t. The quality of her legal defence has been condemned by her supporters including crime novelist and former trial lawyer John Grisham.

Teresa's supporters are urging people to contact the governor of Virginia calling for a reprieve. Details in this YouTube video which includes a recording of Teresa singing a beautiful rendition of her favourite song.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Business leaders say government cuts threaten recovery

Criticism of the government's economic policy is finding support in some unexpected corners. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) warn today that recovery is jeopardised by a lack of investment in “those areas which most galvanise growth, namely infrastructure and capital investment." Their comments echo those made earlier in the week by the Director General of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These are both traditionally very right-wing institutions, strong advocates of neo-liberalism and pure, unfettered free markets. Y'know, like the ones responsible for the current mess. Their comments reflect growing concerns in elite policy circles about the impact of rolling back state spending in the middle of a recession. For one good example of the case for an alternative economic policy, based on investment not cuts, click here.

Interview with Tariq Ali

There is very interesting interview with Tariq Ali on Democracy Now in which he talks about the impact of the floods in Pakistan and Obama's record. You can watch it here.

Tariq's new book is 'The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad'.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Viva Palestina convoy journeys through France

Kevin Ovenden and George Galloway
The fifth Viva Palestina convoy is on its way; passing through Paris and Lyon, before being welcomed by the Mayor in the city of Valux-en-Velin - the only city in France to fly the Palestinian flag.

You can follow the progress of the convoy at the Viva Palestina website, where there is a video interview with convoy leader Kevin Ovenden.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Damage done

On Saturday, the news broke of the arrest of six street cleaners in Westminster on suspicion of plotting to kill the pope. The Daily Express was in tabloid heaven: MUSLIM PLOT TO KILL POPE was the screaming front page headline.

Not a plot by terrorists, I note, or even by ‘Islamic terrorists’ (as the first words of the Express article describe them). No, the headline has to point the finger at all of us; it is a ‘Muslim plot’.

Now, I don’t know any more about the background to this case than I have read in the papers. I have no idea how seriously or otherwise the police should have taken the information they received. And no doubt many people would understand a 'better safe than sorry' approach. But on Sunday, I read that the police decided there was “no credible threat” and released all six men without charge.

In short, the police received information, arrested some suspects, questioned them for a day, and then released them. On the face of it, it sounds like a normal criminal investigation.

So, now it is Monday, and I am looking at the Daily Express. Is there a front page headline screaming “NO MUSLIM PLOT TO KILL POPE AFTER ALL”?

No, I didn’t think there would be either. The damage has been done.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

A rally to restore sanity

I am a big fan of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show on Channel 4 and his ‘big announcement’ had me in stitches. Stewart is planning a 'Rally to Restore Sanity’ in Washington on October 30th in response to the increasingly bellicose tone of politics in the US. He suggests rally slogans such as “I Disagree With You, But I’m Pretty Sure You’re Not Hitler,” and “Take It Down a Notch, America”!

Stewart is a comedian but he is really making a serious point about growing rightwing extremism in the US. Historian Simon Schama makes the same point in this video, arguing that Islamaphobia is worse now in the US than after 9/11. Against a background of growing unemployment and economic recession, he describes large sections of America as being in a state of ‘neurotic defensiveness’ about being under attack, whether by Muslims or illegal immigrants. One expression of this is the 20% or so of the population that believe 'President Obama is a Muslim and a Trojan horse for a Stalinist Soviet Union being planted in Idaho’! Funny as this sounds on the surface, the reality of what is bubbling underneath is anything but. If I was in the US, I know where I would be heading at the end of next month.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Only 1-in-3 Lib Dem voters support cuts

With the Lib Dem conference about to open it feels timely to revisit one of my regular themes: the great deceit the Lib Dems perpetuated on British voters at the general election.

According to a poll for the Sunday Times just 1-in-3 Lib Dem voters support the scale of government cuts. And over 50% think Nick Clegg is only interested in the trappings of power.

Simon Jenkins captures that sentiment, with some humour, concluding that Clegg's gift to the Liberal Democrats is a "ticket to oblivion". Let's hope so.

As I have said before the Lib Dems are the soft underbelly of this deeply reactionary government. The heavier the blows landed on them in forthcoming elections, the more chance we will have of halting Clegg and Cameron’s plans to introduce 21st century Thatcherism.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Trades Unions vote to boycott Israeli occupation

As the Viva Palestina convoy prepares to leave for Gaza, the annual TUC conference has voted unanimously to “work closely with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to actively encourage affiliates, employers and pension funds to disinvest from, and boycott the goods of, companies who profit from illegal settlements, the Occupation and construction of the Apartheid Wall.”

The TUC also called for an immediate end to the siege of Gaza, condemned the Israeli attack on the ships taking humanitarian aid, and demanded a full independent inquiry into the attack on the Mavi Marmara.

The Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Huge Lanning, said:

It is a massive step forward in the movement for justice for the Palestinian people, and reflects growing public anger at Israel's aggression towards the Palestinians and those, such as the humanitarians on the Gaza aid flotilla, who try to help them...Trade unions were pivotal in helping to end Apartheid in South Africa and bring freedom to that country's people. Today's vote shows that Britain's unions are prepared to stand up again in support of an oppressed people - this time the Palestinians - and help them to win their freedom. This is an historic moment for the union movement in the UK, and one that it can be proud of.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Viva Palestina 5 - the journey begins


On 31 May, the Mavi Marmara, carrying aid for the people of Gaza, was attacked by Israeli forces in international waters. The massacre shocked the world and turned the spotlight once again on the illegal and inhumane siege of Gaza.

But if Israel thought their brutality would deter others, they were wrong. Many more people have been inspired to support the Palestinian people with practical aid. 

This Saturday, 18 September, the fifth Viva Palestina convoy leaves for Gaza. The land convoy from London is due to join with convoys from Casablanca and Doha, and another international flotilla that will try again to reach Gaza by sea.

It is a fantastic example of solidarity, and my hopes and prayers are for a peaceful and successful journey.

You can still donate to Viva Palestina here.

And, thanks to my friends at Philosophy Football, you can also wear the official t-shirt that will be worn by all the drivers and crew on the convoy. The shirt can be bought online here, and sales will help to fund the convoy.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Book burning and 9/11

As the heat dies down over Qur’an burning day, on this side of the world at least, and as the media shift their attention elsewhere, I thought I would use today’s blog for some reflection on my own experience of the controversy.

In the build up to the anniversary of 9/11 my phone was buzzing with calls from deeply upset Muslims anxious that we ‘do something’ about the plans of the Rev Terry Jones. I was not surprised.  For Muslims, the Qur'an is considered the word of God. It is a sacred text to us and a desecration of it is a deeply offensive act. I understand why people were upset and angry. My response however, was to tell people to ignore the provocations.

The perpetrators of stunts like this are invariably self-seeking publicists. Their actions are driven by ego, not empathy with the victims of terrorism. Their intention is to foster division. Consumed by hatred and bigotry, their grip on reality is often dubious. The Rev Terry Jones fits the bill. He heads a micro-church that has less than 50 followers and which doubles up as a furniture store. His own daughter has described him as ‘mad’. I don’t hate the man; I feel pity for him and his ilk. 

I don’t believe in fuelling the oxygen of publicity they so desperately crave. Nor do I believe that as a Muslim I have to rush to defend my God against the slings and arrows of every crank.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Birmingham declares war on its own employees

Birmingham City Council has declared war on its employees, and on our public services. Tens of thousands of people now face pay cuts or the sack. This is devastating news, not only for these individuals and families, but for all those who value public services.

The Birmingham Mail report says it all:

Almost 26,000 workers at Birmingham City Council have been put under threat of possible redundancy. The local authority’s entire non-schools staff – covering everyone from dustmen and street sweepers to clerks and cleaners – have been sent formal legal notices warning their contracts of employment were to be changed and cuts in pay and conditions imposed.

This is not about ‘waste’. It has nothing to do with ‘efficiency’, and even less to do with ‘fairness’.

It is an ideologically-driven attack on the very existence of public services. And it is an attempt to make low paid public sector workers pay the bill for the damage caused to our economy by rich bankers.

Many people voted Liberal Democrat in the mistaken belief they were more ‘progressive’ than Labour. After all, the Lib Dems were against the war in Iraq, and didn’t go along with the worst of Blair’s authoritarianism on civil liberties. No-one should ever make that mistake again: without the Liberal Democrats there would be no Tory war on our public services.

This week’s virtually unanimous decision by the Trades Union Congress to launch a mass campaign against the attack on public services is very important. All sorts of local and national campaigns will raise their voices against these cuts, but the trades unions are going to be at the sharp end, and the TUC has the capacity to forge a united movement of opposition.

They have pledged to call a rally outside parliament in October when spending plans are announced, a national demonstration in the spring, and to co-ordinate industrial action. They are committed as well to building alliances with local communities.

This needs to be the beginning of a campaign that sweeps the country, drawing support from every possible source, giving hope and confidence that there is an alternative to the economic madness of the ConDems.

Monday, 13 September 2010

There is an alternative to cuts

With a new report from the TUC showing the poor will be hit 10 times harder than the rich by the government's devastating austerity programme, the Public and Commercial Services Union have just produced a timely pamphlet outlining the case for an economic alternative. You can download it here.
PSC General Secretary Mark Serwotka rightly says we need a movement of popular resistance to stop the cuts:

“We are constantly told by a cabinet of millionaires that cuts are inevitable. Far from being unavoidable, their plans to cut government departments’ budgets by up to 40% are a political choice driven by ideology, not necessity.

“We will take every opportunity this week to say there is an alternative – one that will ensure the economy continues to grow and, crucially, protects the public services that we all rely on. While industrial action may be necessary, it is clear the most effective opposition would be the biggest popular movement we have seen for many years.”

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Remember Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech?

This is a slightly unusual request I received that some of you may be able to help with. Photogrpaher Andrew Jackson is involved in a project which revisits the 1964 Smethwick election campaign and the Enoch Powell ‘rivers of blood’ speech.

Andrew says:

“We're looking for anyone who was active in Smethwick during the 1964 General Election. Or who perhaps had direct contact with Enoch Powell after or around the Rivers of Blood speech. People active politically in Smethwick or Wolverhampton around the time of the speech (1968) would be of interest too for a portrait and an interview.”

Friday, 10 September 2010

Eid Mubarak!

Today, Muslims throughout the world are celebrating Eid, the festival marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. As always, after a month of fasting, it will be a joyful occasion, so Eid Mubarak to everyone!

My house will be busy with relatives and friends, coming and going, and sharing their Eid greetings. Although I will be doing my best to join in, I have been ill recently and will be hoping to get a little rest amid all the festivities!

Unfortunately, I am not well enough to attend the Green Party conference which starts today here in Birmingham. I was due to join a panel on public sector cuts alongside Billy Hayes of the Communications Workers Union on Saturday, and I am sorry I am not going to be able to make it. I wish all my friends in the Green Party a successful conference.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Miliband follows the Blair path

David Miliband, the front runner in the Labour leadership campaign, seemed a bit  embarrassed by the backing he received from Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson. It’s not that he doesn’t support the policies of his old boss; it’s just that Blair has a tendency to say bluntly what David Miliband might have wished to keep quiet for the time being.

There is no doubting where Blair stands: he supports the slash and burn economics of the Tory –Lib Dem coalition. Blair’s prescription was to keep taxes low (to benefit the rich), raise VAT and other indirect taxes (to attack the poor), and to move faster to dismantle public services (his Tory friends have taken that advice to heart).

David Miliband, if he wants to be elected Labour leader, obviously can’t say anything like that, and moved to distance himself from Blair. But I was intrigued by a speech Miliband made a couple of weeks ago, when he referred to RA Butler, the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1951 Tory government.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Spies should 'speak truth to power'

There was an interesting interview with writer John Le Carre on this morning's Today programme. A former spy himself, he makes some pertinent comments about the responsibility, and failure, of the intelligence services to 'speak truth to power'. If they had done so, and presented the real evidence about the lack of WDM in Iraq, it would have been impossible for Blair to have deceived the country into going to war. You can listen to the interview here.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The real source of the deficit

Again and again we are told that too much public spending has got us into trouble. It just is not true.

Economist Michael Burke uses the Treasury's own figures to counter the government's line that Labour's over-spending is to blame for the deficit.

He shows that "66% of the entire public sector borrowing requirement" arises from "plunging tax receipts". The other major cost was the bank bailout. Increases in public spending made only a small contribution to the deficit. He also notes that tax receipts "averaged 37.6% during Labour’s entire period of office, compared to 42.4% under Thatcher" and concludes that "Labour taxed much too little, much less than Thatcher."

Monday, 6 September 2010

Connexions campaigners to lobby council

On the day the A-level results were issued in August, supporters of the Connexions service were out with their petition calling on the council to save their jobs, and the vital service they offer to young people.

I wrote about this at the time, and I am told that the day went really well, with lots of young people turning out to support the service, and around 2500 signatures collected.

On Tuesday (7 September) campaigners will be presenting their petition to the full meeting of the City Council, and holding a lobby and rally outside the meeting. If you are able to support this important service for young people, please join them in Victoria Square (outside the Council House) at 12 noon.

For more information, see the Facebook Group "Save Our Connexions Services Now", or email connexions@birminghamunison.co.uk.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

War corrupts

One aspect of the war in Afghanistan that really gets under my skin is its reportage. With a few notable exceptions it is rare to read real critical journalism in the mainstream media about our commitment to a war that is nearly a decade old yet much further from being won now than when it first started. Instead, what often passes for journalism is thinly disguised bias from embedded journalists.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

ConDem cuts declare war on equality

Ken Livingstone has published a damning analysis of the impact of government cuts on women. His report concludes that "women in London are paying twice as much as men for the government's cuts in public spending".

Up to 600,000 public sector jobs are under threat. Around 65% of public sector workers are women and will bear the brunt of these job losses. Women pensioners already suffer more poverty than men and public sector job losses and attacks on public sector pensions are likely to widen this gap even further. And women are far more likely to pay the cost of cuts in benefits and tax credits. A staggering 72% of these cuts are paid for by women and 38% from men - according to figures from the House of Commons library, commissioned by Labour MP Yvette Cooper.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

City councils cuts Working Neighbourhoods Funding

In another stunning example of government 'fairness' , £49.9 million was slashed from the Working Neighbourhoods Fund in June. The fund is used by councils to support projects in deprived areas that have particularly high levels of unemployment. It seems that the more jobs that are lost, the deeper the cuts this government inflicts on programmes that try to help.

In Birmingham, the Fund has supported the Community Chest that allows voluntary organisations to bid for money, along with a range of initiatives to co-ordinate efforts to improve skills and help people find work. With a very difficult economic outlook for our city, you might have expected the Council to make the most of this money. But as well as cutting the budget, the Government removed the 'ring-fence' around the fund, and this has allowed some councils to reduce spending even more than the Government recommended.

A report today says: "Birmingham City Council has cut its £70 million budget by £7 million – £3 million more than was recommended". Nicola Smith, a Senior Policy Officer for the TUC, observes that "...some local authorities will choose to cut the programmes that have lower overall public awareness and that provide support to those constituencies with the least voice – programmes for the most vulnerable are at greatest risk."

This is no more than we have come to expect from Birmingham's Tories and their Lib Dem hangers on. The deeper the wounds inflicted by Tory cuts the more voters must be wondering, what on earth is the point of the Lib Dems?

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Blair's crocodile tears won't wash

Across every TV screen and newspaper appears the face of Tony Blair; the man who took us to war in Iraq; the man who justified this war by lies about weapons of mass destruction; the man whose decision to plunge Iraq into the nightmare of war has now cost the lives of at least 100,000 civilians.

Blair has, apparently, shed tears: ""Do they really suppose I don't care, don't feel, don't regret with every fibre of my being the loss of those who died", he says in extracts from his new book. But one thing he does not regret, and will not apologise for, is the decision to go to war itself.

He does not seem to understand that this is not about his personal feelings. Nothing is made better by knowing that he acted in 'good faith', even if we were to believe him. The deep and divisive political issues at stake are not resolved by the tears of Tony Blair.

He took momentous political decisions in the face of huge opposition. He now says he never guessed the "nightmare that unfolded". But as the Stop the War Coalition says: "The majority of people in Britain had no difficulty in seeing that the nightmare we faced was not Iraq, but Tony Blair and his war policies."