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Just vague enough not to cause trouble

26 Jul

West Ham MP Lyn Brown spoke in yesterday’s Summer adjournment debate in the House of Commons, accusing the government of Brexit-induced cowardice in the face of human rights abuses around the world:

I usually use this debate to talk about very local issues. Today I want to deviate a little, because many of my constituents have written to me about their concerns for people who live elsewhere in the world and their fear that our voice might be silenced or muted because of Brexit and our pursuit of trade deals.

My constituents have pointed out Trump’s obsession with walls and putting children in cages, and his insidious support for the damaging and highly dangerous great replacement conspiracy theory. They asked, “What did we do in response?” Well, we gave him a state visit.

There are concerns about other powerful countries too, like China. As we know, more than a million men, women and children are in detention camps, based on their ethnicity and their Muslim faith. Families have been torn apart by the state, children from their parents. Credible reports say that detainees are forced to swear oaths of allegiance, renounce their religion and learn Mandarin in place of their mother tongue. Some reports even talk of summary execution and the harvesting of organs.

Our Government has recognised that human rights abuses are happening today on a huge, almost unimaginable scale. Uyghur Muslims fear a genocide. Why have we not taken targeted steps? Frankly, we do not need more words. It is clearly a business. We could identify those who develop racist software to identify the targets. We could identify those who are building the camps. We could refuse them contracts with the UK, couldn’t we? We could speak up much more strongly about Hong Kong as well, couldn’t we? We could address the increasing fear of Hong Kongers that their free society is just slipping away. We could help—but we have not, and I fear that we will not because China might move away from freer trade, and we need that free trade now as a substitute for what we are losing.

I fear that it is the same with Modi’s Government.

On 17 June, when the new Indian Parliament was being sworn in, members of the ruling party chanted the Hindu nationalist slogan “Jai Sri Ram” whenever a Muslim representative stood up to take their oath. It was an attempt to intimidate and delegitimise those elected representatives based on their religion. Those words could simply be an expression of faith, but they have been twisted into something horrifying.

Since then, there have been repeated Islamophobic attacks, accompanied by that same chant. On 22 June, Tabrez Ansari was tied to a pole, beaten and abused by a crowd in the open. He cried and begged for mercy. After the crowd were done with Tabrez—after they had forced him to repeat their slogan and taken yet another step to erase his difference—the police took him into custody. Reportedly, he was refused medical help. His family members were threatened with similar beatings and not permitted even to see him until, four days later, he died of his injuries.

There have been many further attacks. A Hindu video is being shared, with the lyric:

“Whoever doesn’t say Jai Sri Ram, send him to the graveyard.”

Frankly, that is the language of genocide.

As hon. Members will know, I could go on. I wanted to talk about Bolsonaro’s Brazil, Saudi Arabia and our arms deals as well. To be entirely honest, it seems to me that FCO Ministers, many of whom I deeply respect, have raised human rights issues in terms just vague enough not to cause trouble.

What is our role in this new world if we swallow our words and turn away when we see persecution escalating, risk to lives and liberty, and possible genocide on the horizon? How will this new Government show us that they are not cowards, they are not distracted and they are not restricted because of Brexit?

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Lobby the council

17 Jun

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From the Stratford and New Town Labour Party Facebook page (inline links added):

We encourage all ward members to read

the cabinet paper (PDF)

that has been put forward proposing a Public Space Protection Order which could see Stratford Centre closed and rough sleeping criminalised within the Centre and the areas around it.

This is a major issue for ward members and Stratford and New Town Branch Labour party will be discussing the issues around this as a matter of urgency, either at our next ward meeting on the 4th July or if necessary at a special ward meeting, depending on the timetable for consultation.

There are serious human rights issues with Public Space Protection Orders and Liberty have campaigned against the use of these by local authorities. We are also concerned about the criminalisation of vulnerable people and limiting access to the Centre, which is a public thoroughfare, for Stratford residents.

A lobby of the council is planned for tomorrow evening, details [in the image above]

The cabinet paper, linked above, sets out the problem – from the council’s perspective – with crime and disorder arising from an increase in rough sleeping in the shopping centre. It also

outlines the current support and action being taken to provide tailored support to vulnerable individuals. The report details the outreach and support work that is undertaken and any temporary provision that will be put in place pending the availability of a more permanent solution.

Criminalising the poor and vulnerable was a policy vigorously pursued by the previous regime, which issued ASBOs to rough sleepers around Stratford. It would be a shame (to put it mildly) if the new administration went down the same road.

Update (Monday 17 June, 20:10)

The Mayor has just announced at full council that the report on Street Homelessness in Stratford proposed for Cabinet tomorrow has been withdrawn.

East Ham gets the go-ahead

14 Jun

SyedTaqiShah1 2019 Jun 06

East Ham chair Tahir Mirza and secretary Syed Taqi Shah with Peterborough candidate Lisa Forbes

After several years in the doldrums East Ham CLP finally got itself back on its feet earlier this year. Branch AGMs were held, general committee (GC) delegates elected and a CLP meeting elected a new slate of officers in February.

Since when nothing much has happened. There hasn’t been a GC meeting and members have been left wondering what’s going on.

But there is good news – the investigation by London regional office to ensure all the elected GC delegates were legitimate has been completed. It was delayed for several months by staff being deployed to the local elections, the European elections and then the Peterborough by-election, but an approved list of delegates has now been sent to the East Ham secretary. So the CLP can get on and hold meetings.

The first will be a special trigger ballot meeting on City and East London Assembly member Unmesh Desai next Thursday (20 June).

East Ham’s trigger meeting is the last in City and East. So far Unmesh Desai has won five and lost one, in West Ham. This means he has already passed the threshold to be automatically re-selected as the Labour candidate in 2020. 

The ‘regular’ GC will follow on, including an election for party conference delegates. Nominations have to be submitted by 5pm on the day and, given that most branches won’t meet before the GC, it’s hard to see how they can put forward valid nominations.

No doubt London region will be keeping an eye on things.

Cheeky Nando’s

8 Oct

Canning Town library

Newham council’s local development committee is the unlikely focus of controversy, as it considers an application for change of use for the old Canning Town library. If the change is agreed the ground floor of the historic building will be converted to into a Nando’s restaurant.

The proposal is controversial because campaigners claim that the building once hosted speeches by the like of Keir Hardie and Sylvia Pankhurst and gave birth to the GMB, one of Britain’s biggest trade unions. In fact, that all happened next door, in the old public hall which is now occupied by Community Links.

The proposal has been denounced on social media by councillors, local Labour members and residents. The Evening Standard picked up the story and even the Morning Star has chipped in:

“This bird-brained move by Newham Council shows an utter disregard for East London’s proud history,” GMB regional secretary Warren Kenny said.

“GMB understands local authorities have been driven to the wall by the Conservatives’ austerity project.

“But we had been in talks with Newham about turning the library into a learning space – which GMB would have had offices in.

“Instead they’ve chosen to feather their own nest and allow GMB’s birthplace to become yet another chicken shop.”

The local Labour Party in Canning Town North argued the library in Barking Road should remain open to the public due to its historical importance.

A Labour spokesman said: “The library is a Grade II listed building has been owned by the council and used as a public library since around 1894.

“We aren’t against Nando’s as such; we simply believe that the proposal is in the wrong place and should be in empty properties. It would enable the old library to continue with its original function of serving the public.”

The Newham Recorder reports that the mayor has been surprised by the proposals

Ms Fiaz [asked] why no GMB councillors approached her about the issue when she was elected in May. The mayor, who is also a GMB member, said she only found out about the proposals in an article published last week.

So how did we get to this point?

Newham council decided way back in April 2011 to move the library into a new ‘community hub’ space within the Rathbone Market development. The minutes of the cabinet meeting record a decision

to make an allocation within the capital programme for the purchase of the space from the developer, for the fit out of the whole 12,000 sq ft of space and for fixtures, fittings and equipment for the new Library Plus service operated by Customer Services.

They go on to note that

Councillor Furness said that this was warmly welcomed by local ward Members.

Then councillor, now London Assembly member, and GMB stalwart Unmesh Desai was at the meeting, as was Lester Hudson. Did no-one realise that moving the Library out would leave the building vacant and in need of an alternative tenant?

The change of use for the Rathbone Market building to a library was formally agreed in 2016, by the Strategic Development Committee, chaired by councillor Ken Clark.

Subsequently, an external specialist was instructed to market the old library building and find a suitable tenant to take a lease on commercial terms with a use that would provide an income stream for the Council and provide vitality and footfall for the area.

In December 2017 the then-mayor, Sir Robin Wales, received a report on the future of the Canning Town Library building

…which sought approval for the letting of the former Canning Town Library, Barking Road E16.

The former Canning Town Library building was vacated in September 2017 when the services moved to new and improved facilities at Canning Town and Custom House Community Neighbourhood Centre.

A number of restaurant and bar chains had expressed an interest, but Nando’s was the preferred bidder, “reflecting a strong covenant with a community use.”

The report identified number of benefits, in addition to the significant commercial revenue

[Nando’s] propose to make Canning Town the London hub for their project to help the UK emerging creative community as they feel this is a place where they can really make a difference. Their own research concludes that young creatives need access to resources, to extend their creative network to reach an audience that will embrace their talents. This is something they think they can help with by providing resources, skills and experience they need. It is the intention of the prospective tenant to make part of the property available for community activity in a way that they have already delivered on other restaurant sites

Sir Robin approved the recommendation. It was also agreed that

the Director of Asset Management, in consultation with the Mayoral Advisor for Commercial Property [Cllr Ian Corbett], be authorised to finalise negotiations with regard to the Heads of Terms and to have delegated authority to conclude all matters arising from this decision.

Among those present were Canning Town councillor Ann Easter, as well as Ayesha Chowdhury, Lester Hudson, Mas Patel and Quintin Peppiatt. They, along with Ken Clark and Unmesh Desai, are all now signatories to an open letter calling for Nando’s application to be rejected!

The commercial letting of the Library building hasn’t appeared out of nowhere  – it was literally years in making. Relocating the library inevitably required a new tenant be found for the old building. If Nando’s make good on their promises to build a hub for the creative community that will be a huge benefit to Canning Town.

And it ill-befits people who have been party to the decisions that got us here to be complaining now about the proposal and its supposed lack of sensitivity to Labour history. Especially as none of that history happened in the library.

Conference pairs

25 Sep

Jess Shawcroft Buxton 23 Sept 2018

West Ham CLP delegates posing with former NEC member Christine Shawcroft (picture via Newham Momentum)

It’s party conference time and it seems like half of Newham council has trekked up to Liverpool.

Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz had a prime slot to address conference on youth violence as a public health issue and various councillors have appeared on fringe platforms and in the media. Stratford’s Josh Garfield featured on BBC 2’s Victoria Derbyshire show and Canning Town councillor Rohit Dasgupta was interviewed on BBC Asian Network. East Ham North’s Daniel Blaney spoke at the Labour CND fringe meeting.

Other councillors attending either the official conference or Momentum’s parallel ‘The World Transformed’ gathering include James Beckles, Terry Paul, Susan Masters, John Gray, James Asser, Sasha Das Gupta, Shaban Mohammed, Hanif Abdulmuhit, Mohammed Muzibur Rahman and Suga Thekkeppurayil.

Despite the vast number of them, none of these councillors are actually delegates. West Ham CLP is represented by Tina Jess and Carel Buxton (pictured above), while East Ham has no official representation. It seems odd that a CLP for a seat with one of the largest Labour votes and majorities in the country doesn’t have a delegate. But that is a consequence of it being essentially non-functioning. Which is itself a consequence of Sir Robin’s approach to party management.

Hopefully, for the sake of ordinary party members, that is something that can quickly be put right.

Let’s not take a backward step

21 Sep

By Josephine Grahl

In May 2018 a record number of woman councillors were elected in Newham – 28 in total – as well as a woman Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, who then went on to appoint a majority female Cabinet and a woman Deputy Mayor, Charlene Maclean.

This was achieved thanks to a Labour party selection process which determined that, where a council ward was already represented by two female councillors, or where a male candidate was stepping down and creating a vacancy, Labour party branches would be asked to select at least two women for the three available seats.

Essentially this meant that eight of the twenty council wards would have all-women shortlists (AWS) for two of the three available seats, with the remainder having to select at least one woman.

The exception was Royal Docks, where the three incumbent men were reselected; if a vacant seat becomes available in that ward, one would hope it would be filled through AWS.

Boleyn was a ‘two-women ward’, where the suspension of Cllr Obaid Khan from the Labour party created a vacancy and the local Labour party selected sitting councillors Veronica Oakeshott and Harvinder Singh Virdee and new candidate Genevieve Kitchen to contest the ward.

It was a surprise, therefore, when Labour party members in Newham were informed that the candidate selection for the Boleyn ward by-election – where Cllr Veronica Oakeshott is stepping down – would be open to both male and female candidates. Historically, open selections in Newham have almost always led to the selection of male candidates, so it looks all too likely that this will be a backward step for gender balance in Newham Council.

When asked why the selection was not an AWS, the London Regional Labour party cited the party rulebook, namely Appendix 4. B. i. b: “In winnable wards with two or three members at least one candidate must be a woman.” But there’s nothing in the letter of that rule which suggests that an all women shortlist can’t be used in Boleyn – and the spirit of that rule is the encouragement of wider participation by women in standing for elected office, here being undermined.

Newham Council has had a solid Labour majority for decades, often with sixty Labour councillors out of sixty, and with only minor and short-lived incursions by other parties. This makes the Labour party’s selection process for council candidates key to the make-up of the Council. It’s disappointing, therefore, that the party has opted not to require that an outgoing woman councillor be replaced by another woman – and will be even more disappointing if the Boleyn by-election leads to a reduction in the number of women holding local office.

Josephine Grahl is writing in her personal capacity, not as chair of West Ham CLP.

Purge!

19 Sep

Another day, another paranoid conspiracy theory.

Labour’s London regional office has been running standard membership eligibility checks in East Ham and some members have received letters asking them to verify that they are on local electoral roll.

This is, of course, a huge Blairite conspiracy to root out supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. Because it’s only “Team Corbyn” who have received the letters.

Quite how regional office knows who’s on “Team Corbyn” is not explained. Nor how the Corbynites know that no-one else has had a letter. Believing it is, I suppose, enough.

Like their counterparts on the right, the Brextremists, Corbynites are the dog that chased the car and caught it – they have no idea what to do with it now they have it.

“You’ve won; get over it.”

Stop looking for plots and witch hunts; start leading the party.

You’re in charge now.