Stoke Poges Walk
Stoke Poges, Bucks. Mon 29 Apr 2013
curfew, no lowing herd, no ploughman, but a monument to Thomas Gray
We were lucky to pick one of the first reasonable days for a while for
a walk around Stoke Poges. Much of it has changed dramatically since
Gray sat in the churchyard in 1750 in the week after he moved to Stoke
Poges and worked on his "Stanza's Wrote in a Country Church-Yard",
better known as Gray's Elegy. Our walk of a few miles in the country
around took us past two helicopter pads and across a golf course as well
as past some very large and expensive houses.
The church itself is impressively unspoilt, although it lost its spire
in 1924 when it was found to be unsafe, and the ivy which Gray mentioned
was remove around a century ago as it was threatening the structure. It
has a fine collection of stained glass, with some good fairly modern
examples. The churchyard is perhaps something of a disappointment, but
next door are the Grade II listed Stoke Poges Memorial Gardens, designed
in the 1930s by Edward White, given for public benefit and intended to
preserve the quiet rural setting of the church. From them there is a
good view over a lake and an ornamental bridge of the Georgian mansion
ofStoke Park, built around 40 years after Gray's writing. It's architect
was James Wyatt, perhaps the most famous architect of the time (at least
after Robert Adam) and its parkland, which had been styled by Lancelot
'Capability' Brown around the old Manor House (a part of which still
remains) around the time Gray moved to the area, was reworked for the
new house by Humphry Repton. The fortune needed for its production came
from the sale of an extensive plot came from the newly formed US
government, who paid John Penn around £130,000 for their 26 million acre
plot in America, which became Pennsylvania.
The Stoke Park estate became Britain's first country club in 1908, when
a 27 hole golf course was laid out in its grounds, and remains one of
the world's top golf courses. A five star hotel, It also has three of
the worlds more expensive restuarants and holds an annual tennis
tournament as a run-up to Wimbledon. We found rather cheaper eating in a
local pub - good pub food at a decent price, and the only place in the
area where we saw a ploughman or rather a ploughman's breakfast;
tempting though it was, I had the chicken and chips.
Ten Years of Genocide in Darfur
Sudanese Embassy - Old Palace Yard, London. Sun 28 Apr 2013
The protest began at the Sudanese Embassy and ended here opposite
Ten years after the genocide started, large crowd of mainly
Sudanese protested at the Sudan embassy before presenting a petition
asking the UK government to take action to stop the violence in Darfur
and continuing to a rally outside Parliament.
The Sudanese government under President Omar al-Bashir began a campaign
of genocide against civilians in Darfur ten years ago, and has killed
over 300,000 and deplaced 2 million Darfuris. al-Bashir has been
indicted with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, but
although he travels widely has yet to be arrested to answer the charges
in the Internatonal Court.
The protest began at the Sudanese Embassy, and then they marched to
Downing St to deliver their petition. I caught up with them again for
the closing quarter hour or so which was spent in protesting in Old
Palace Yard opposite parliament.
London Invaded by Sci-Fi Fantasy
Theatre Square, Stratford, London. Sun 28 Apr 2013
And no, I hadn't a clue who most of them were
meant to be
Characters from "every imaginable corner of the sci-fi and fantasy
spectrum" paraded in Theatre Square, Stratford in the Sci-Fi-London
Costume parade, marking the start of the Sci-Fi-London film festival.
As someone who has never wanted to watch Star Wars, The Matrix and the
rest I really didn't have a clue who any of them were supposed to be,
but as publicity stunts go, this seemed to be more fun than most, with -
apart from a few promotions - most people seeming to be fans who like to
Iranian Greens May Day Protest
Tower Hill, London. Sun 28 Apr 2013
Iranian Green Wave Voice call for the release of political prisoners
Around 50 protesters from Iranian Green Wave Voice came to Tower
Hill to stand with banners and posters showing pictures of political
prisioners in Iran and demanding their release.
Many of those taking part in the protest had placards handing around
their neck with photographs and short descriptions of some of those held
in Iranian prisons, including teachers, journalists, lawyers and human
rights activists. The protest for human rights in Iran took place today
in anticipation of May Day - International Workers Day. Green Wave Voice
is a part of the Iranian opposition freedom movement against the
religious dictatorship in Iran which arose following the 2009 Iranian
presidential election, where opposition voters accused the Iranian
government, led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, of rigging the vote,
announcing they had won with a two thirds majority, while Mir Hossein
Mousavi, the leading opposition candidate claimed that he had been the
As I was finishing photographing the protest, which had been taking
place for around half an hour, a police officer came to ask if the
protesters had applied for permission to protest, which they had not.
She told them they could not protest without having notified the police
in advance. I was standing next to her listening to the conversation and
to my surprise she asked me if I had any questions. I asked her under
which law she felt they needed permission and she replied 'Section 11 of
the Public Order Act'. I told her that I understood that this only
applied to processions and not to static protests such as this, and she
assured me that this was not the case, and pulling out a small printed
legal guide from her pocket she read out the following:
"Written notice shall be given in accordance with this section of
any proposal to hold a public procession intended—
(a)to demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions
of any person or body of persons,
(b)to publicise a cause or campaign, or
(c)to mark or commemorate an event,
unless it is not reasonably practicable to give any advance notice
of the procession."
I pointed out to her that this clearly states it is about processions,
and not about assemblies or static protests such as this and slowly it
began to dawn on her. After a few seconds she felt she had to call a
superior officer to check on how she should apply the law. I'd taken the
pictures I wanted and left before she got an answer.
Workers Memorial Day
Tower Hill, London. Sun 28 Apr 2013
There was a black balloon for every worker killed
at work (according to official figures) in 2012
Trade unionists met at the statue of a building worker at Tower
Hill to remember those who have died at work - including more than 300
in the Bangladesh factory collapse - and to "fight like hell for the
living", opposing unsafe working conditions.
There were speeches from Len McCluskey, recently re-elected General
Secretary of Unite, Tony O'Brien, of the Construction Safety Campaign
(CSC), Jerry Swain from UCATT, Margaret Sharkey of the London Hazards
Centre and Austin Harney of the PCS before a reading of the names of
those who, according the the Health & Safety Executive who have died
at work in the previous year. After a minute of silence for them,
wreaths were laid at the statue of the unknown building worker, and
there was then a release of black balloons, one for each of the deaths.
In fact many more people die of work each year. According to Hilda
Palmer of Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) a group
formed by parents whose children have been killed by the gross
negligence of business employers, preventable work-related incidents
kill around 1,400 workers every year with around 50,000 dying from
preventable work-related ilnesses. The numbers of deaths are
considerably greater than those of deaths of our soldiers in Iraq or
Afghanistan, but whereas those deaths are headline news, the media
seldom if ever report these preventable deaths at work, and the
government is busily relaxing the regulations that protect workers for
further risk, under the guise of getting rid of red tape.
Although the Health & Safety Executive was felt by many to be
toothlessm, and to have failed in its duty to prosecute careless and
deliberately negligent employers who have put workers at risk to
increase their profits, even the limited protection for workers that
their inspections provided has been a victim of government cuts. Many
industries with a poor record of workplace safety have now been
officially classified as low risk and will only be inspected after
serious accidents have taken place. Together they include places where
over half of record fatalities occur.
Employers continue to be allowed to employ militant anti-safety
practices, including the black-listing of workers who report faults and
stand up for safety in the workplace. Although we are unlikely to see
catastrophes such as the factory collapse in Bangladesh that has killed
at least 300 workers, the number who have died in this rightly headlined
incident is roughly that who die in 3 months of 'normal' working in the
Hizb ut-Tahrir protest Bangladeshi Regime
Altab Ali Park and Brick Lane, London. Sat 27 Apr 2013
Man with placards against Prime Minister Sheik
A rally and march by Islamic political party Hizb ut-Tahrir in
Tower Hamlets called for the replacement of the Awami League
government of Bangladesh by an Islamic caliphate and deplored the
anti-Islamic activities of Prime Minister Sheik Hasina.
The rally began with two recitations by Muslim boys, and there were
then a number of political speeches, some in English. They condemned the
activities of the Awami League government under Prime Minister Sheikh
Hasina in Bangladesh, and in particular her anti-Muslim measures,
including the return of Rohinga Muslim refugees to Burma where they are
discriminated against and persecuted.
They want to set up an Islamic caliphate or Khilifah to rule they
country, which they say will bring justice and end corruption. Concern
was expressed for those killed, injured and some still trapped in the
collapsed factory builing at Rana Plaza, and some anger at the
deliberate failure to provide safe working conditions there.
The rally was attended by a little over a hundred Muslim men, many of
whom held placards or waved black Islamic flags. A slightly smaller
group of women, some also holding placards, watched from around 50 yards
away. Some held placards but there were no women speakers and they had
no active role in the rally, although a powerful and somewhat
overstressed sound system meant they could hear what the male speakers
were saying. Many of the younger women particularly did appear to have
an active interest in what was going on.
At the end of the rally, the men marched out of the park and up Brick
Lane, and the women joined on the end of the march and followed them. I
left them after they passed the mosque.
Bangladesh is one of the countries where Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned,
alleged to have been destabilising the country, and after the ban in
2011 to have been involved in a foiled coup attempt. David Cameron in
2007 and 2009 urged the then Labour Government to ban the group, but was
told that there had been two reviews of the group's activities that had
concluded it was a non-violent group and there was insufficient evidence
to justify a ban.
Lonely Vigil at US Embassy
Grosvenor Square, London. Sat 27 Apr 2013
A woman and her daughter at the US Embassy
Narmeen Saleh Al Rubaye, wife of Shawki Ahmed Omar, and their 7
year old daughter stood alone outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor
Square. Three posters showed his injuries from US torture and asked
what you think the Iraqis are doing to him now.
Omar has dual Jordanian/US nationality, born in Kuwait in 1962 he went
to the US as a student in 1979 and four years later married a US
citizen, becoming a US citizen himself in 1986. He went to work in Iraq
after the US invasion and was shortly afterwards arrested together with
his wife who was pregnant by US troops in October 2004, suspected of
supporting the continuing armed resistance to the US invasion. The US
allege he was captured with five insurgents and that weapons and
materials for making IEDs (improvised explosive devices) were found in
Both Omar and his wife were tortured while in US custody in Iraq - Omar
was subjected to water-boarding and electric shock treatment as well as
being beaten. Although his wife was released, he is still held in
custody, and was recently transferred to be held by the Iraqis. He was
subjected to a further round of torture by them in November and December
Omar is held without proper trial. He had a hearing after his arrest by
a military panel without any proper legal representation and they found
him to be an enemy combatant while at the same time declaring he was not
entitled to treatment as a prisoner of war.
His wife and son filed a habeas corpus petition in the USA in 2005, and
following from this gained a temporary order which prevented the US from
handing him to the Iraqi authorities for trial as they had intended. But
with the US withdrawal from Iraq he had been handed over to them in 2011
and is now held in Al Karkh prison. But the government's legal position
was to argue that this order prevented them working for his release -
though as they were themselves holding him it is hard to follow the
convolutions of the US legal mind involved. It seems to be simply a
legal dodge to avoid their moral (and almost certainly legal)
Omar has been on hunger strike in Al Karkh, protesting the ill
treatment and torture of himself and fellow detainees since February
4th. In a statement issued on 27 April his wife states:
"We his family are extremely concerned about his well being. We
have not been in contact with him for four weeks and have no idea of
his whereabouts or his health and safety. As of the last time we
spoke to him his health was on the decline and he was feeling
extremely fatigued. He has lost over 40 pounds since the start of
his hunger strike."
She is appealing to the US government to meet its responsibility for
the well-being of one of its citizens held in a foreign prison,
"especially as they are the ones that turned him over to this
torture and ill treatment. Therefore we are asking that the American
government intervene on Shawki Ahmed Omar's behalf to secure his
release from Iraqi custody and allow him to return to his family."
The US embassy were ignoring the lonely figures standing vigil outside
their entrance. They were attracting no support either from the public
while I was there, although there was a police car and two police vans
parked on the road. Like the continuing failure to release the illegally
held detainees at Guantanamo it seems another instance of a nation
behaving immorally and failing to uphold the principles of freedom and
justice it claims to stand for.
Save Ealing Hospital & the NHS
Southall Park, London. Sat 27 Apr 2013
Women listen to speeches in Southall Park
Around a thousand met in Southall to march and meet other
protesters at a rally in Ealing in the continuing battle by
communities across west London to save A&E departments at Charing
Cross, Hammersmith, Central Middlesex and Ealing Hospitals.
Before the marchers set off from Southall Park, there were a number of
speeches, including one from Councillor Julian Bell, the Leader of
Ealing Council, other local councillors who have led the opposition to
the cuts and the two local MPs, John McDonnell from Hillingdon and
Virendra Sharma, MP for Ealing Southall, as well as representatives from
some of the many faith groups who were also represented at the protest.
The shortest speech came from the youngest speaker, a pupil from Blair
Peach Primary school, named after the teacher who was killed by riot
police at an anti-racist demonstration in Southall in 1979, who was
applauded loudly when she said they shouldn't close Ealing Hospital
because she was born there. The proposed cuts would mean many mothers
having long and sometimes difficult journeys to give birth.
The whole community seems united in its opposition to the cuts, which
would effect around two million people in West London, closing four out
of the current nine A&E units and leave three London Boroughs
without a major hospital. Public transport to the remaining units is
poor from many areas, and the roads are often congested. The cuts will
also lose hundreds of hospital beds and many other hospital services.
The closures seem at least in part motivated by the desire to see
increased privatisation on the NHS in the area, and also to sell off
much hospital owned land for housing and other development. Other
councils in the area also oppose the cuts to the hospitals.
I left the march just after it made its way out of the park, led by a
GMB band, and later passed another large group of protesters waiting to
join it closer to the final rally at Ealing Common.
March of the Beekeepers
Parliament Square, London. Fri 26 Apr 2013
Vivienne Westwood and Katharine Hamnett carry the Save the Bees
petition to Downing St
Several hundred beekeepers and environmentalists met at Parliament,
many in bee veils and with flowers and fruit that rely on bee
pollination to urge DEFRA's Owen Paterson to back a ban on bee-killing
neonicotinoid pesticides in Monday's EU vote.
The vote on Monday comes after a previous vote on a ban in March,
following a report by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) which
concluded that some of these pesticides were a risk to bee health, when
the UK abstained.
The death of bee colonies is a serious problem, and most scientists
seem clear that although these pesticides are not the sole cause, they
weaken the resistance of the bees (and other pollinating insects) to
other factors including climate change and the Varroa mite and thus
increase bee deaths. The decline in bee numbers has been particularly
drastic in England, with the number of colonies down to under half of
those present in the 1980s
The loss of bee colonies has a drastic effect on food production, and
many of those attending the rally in Parliament Square - billed as 'The
March of the Beekeepers' - had brought samples of flowers and food that
rely on bee pollination. Many also wore bee-keeping hats with veils and
carried items of bee-keeping equipment such as smokers, while there were
others dressed as bees, and a large bear asking where his honey was.
The March of the Beekeepers was supported by a wide range of
organisations including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Pesticide
Action Network (PAN), RSPB, Soil Association, The Natural Beekeeping
Trust, the Wildlife Trusts and 38 Degrees, whose on-line petition:
"Dear Owen Paterson, Environment Secretary,
It's time to take action to protect our dying bees!
Immediately halt the use of Nerve-agent pesticides (neonicotinoids)
which are being blamed around the world for the sharp decline in bee
Take measures to reduce the use of all pesticides on bee pollinated
has attracted 300,000 signatures. A small group from the protest, led
by fashion designers Dame Vivienne Westwood and Katharine Hamnett,
carried the petition to Downing St while the protest continued in
The UK government says that the laboratory studies which have shown the
pesticides produced by Syngenta and Bayer CropScience – clothianidin,
imidacloprid and thiamethoxam - to be killing bees do not reflect what
happens during their normal use in the field, and wants there to be
further studies. But scientists, environmentalists and bee-keepers say
that the science clearly shows there is a problem, and that we should
stop using them - as the EU proposes - while further tests are carried
Despite continued opposition from the UK, the vote for the ban was
passed on the following Monday.
Get Britain Cycling Report Launch
Parliament Square, Westminster. Wed 24 Apr 2013
Chris Boadman with 3 MPs in front of Big Ben for
Chris Boardman who won a gold medal for cycling in the Barcelona
Olympics posed with MPs from the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group
to launch their report 'Get Britain Cycling.'
The report says that more should be spent on supporting cycling,
starting at at least £10 per person per year and that cycling should be
considered at an earlier stage in all planning decisions. It calls for
more segregated cycling lanes on the Dutch model and for urban speed
limits generally to be reduced to 20mph. Children should learn to ride a
bike at school and the government should produce a detailed
cross-departmental Cycling Action Plan, with annual progress reports.
UK herbalists Want Regulations
Old Palace Yard, Westminster. Wed 24 April
Herbalists will be stopped from prescribing unless
they are regulated
In 2011 the UK government announced it would bring in statutory
regulations to cover UK herbalists by 2012. Herbalists protested at
parliament today as this had not happened and they are unable to
prescribe many common herbal remedies.
Chinese and traditional herbal practitioners protest at Parliament
against the failure of the Dept of Health to bring in the promised
statutory regulations which would allow them to continue to prescribe
common herbal remedies.
In 2008 the World Health Organisation (WHO) agreed to cooperate with
its member states to promote the use of traditional medicines and for
them to develop national policies to regulate and ensure the safety and
effectiveness of natural health products and practices. The 2004 EU
directive on relating to herbal medicines had provided for traditional
medicines in use before that date could continue in use until 2011, but
after that date require authorisation.
Health Minister Andrew Lansley in Feb 2011 stated that when the EU
directive took full effect in April 2011
"it will no longer be legal for herbal practitioners in the UK to
source unlicensed manufactured herbal medicines for their patients"
"This Government wishes to ensure that the public can continue to
have access to these products.
In order to achieve this, while at the same time complying with EU
law, some form of statutory regulation will be necessary and I have
therefore decided to ask the Health Professions Council to establish
a statutory register for practitioners supplying unlicensed herbal
He said that they aimed to have this in place by 2012.
Today's protest by around 50 people from the European Herbal &
Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association (EHTPA) which represents
professional associations of herbal/traditional medicine practitioners
offering variously western herbal medicine, Chinese herbal medicine,
Ayurveda and traditional Tibetan medicine across the EU, pointed out
that nothing has yet happened and there is "no sign of progress."
Practitioners are now unable to prescribe many commonly used and
effective common herbal remedies. As well as reminding those in
Parliament across the road of the need for statutory regulation which
would enable "a derogation in the European legislation to set up a
UK scheme to permit and regulate the supply, via practitioners, of
unlicensed manufactured herbal medicines to meet individual patient
needs" the protest also called on the public to write to their
MPs asking the government to honour their promise.
Gurkhas Call for equal treatment
Old Palace Yard, Westminster. Wed 24 April
A Ghurka listens to speeches at the protest
British Army Gurkhas who retired before 1997 were granted the right
to settle in the UK in 2009, but their pension remains only a fifth of
that of other British soldiers. They came to Parliament to demand
proper pensions and full citizenship rights.
Several hundred Gurkha pensioners and supporters came to a rally
opposite Parliament on the 198th anniversary of the first recruitment of
Gurkhas into the British Army to deliver a petition to David Cameron
asking for equal treatment to other British Army ex-soldiers. They
receive pensions, gratuities and other compensation at around a fifth or
less of the rate that is given to soldiers they served alongside.
Following a high profile campaign that received widespread public
support (and defeats in court and in parliament) the UK government
granted the right of all former British Army Gurkhas with at least 4
years service to settle in the UK, in particular extending the right to
those who had left the Army before 1997. But although they can come
here, the pensions and other payments they receive are much lower than
those of British soldiers and are based on outdated assumptions about
the cost of living in Nepal.
The Gurkhas want to be given full citizenship of the country for which
they risked their lives in Army service, and to be paid pensions at the
same rate as British veterans. The Gurkha United Struggle Committee has
said that the government has six months to reply to their demands and
that then they will begin a 13-day relay hunger-strike. If that does not
succeed they will then take part in a ‘fast-unto-death’.
Drax Biomass Threat to our Planet
Princes St, City of London. Wed 24 Apr 2013
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett speaking at the
A DRAXtic Action at the Drax AGM warned that converting half the
massive power station from coal to biomass is disastrous for the
environment and urged the government to stop subsidising this
'greenwash' as renewable energy though our fuel bills.
The protest took place outside Grocer's Hall in the centre of the City
of London, next to the Bank of England, where the Drax AGM was taking
place. Drax, a huge coal-burning power station near Selby in Yorkshire,
has plans to convert half its capacity to burning biomass. It already
imports wood pellets from Canada, the USA, Portugal and South Africa for
relatively small-scale power generation, but the development would make
Drax by far the biggest biomass-burning power station in the world,
using 1.5 times the total UK wood production per year.
The wood currently being used comes mainly from the clear-cutting of
highly biodiverse forests in North America, and the eventual regrowth
that will remove the large amounts of carbon emitted will take of the
order of a hundred years - during which time the carbon will be
contributing to disastrous climate change. Burning wood produces roughly
50% more carbon than coal to produce the same amount of energy.
The impact of biomass cultivation is particularly destructive in
countries of the global South, where land is being grabbed from its
traditional communities, usually with complete disregard for their human
and civil rights, cleared of its biodiverse forests and diverted from
food production - often in places where food is desperately needed.
Drax is a dirty power station, and would have to close because of its
sulphur dioxide emissions when EU directives become binding in 2016.
Although wood produces much more carbon dioxide, it is relatively low in
sulphur, and changing to 50% wood burn will enable it to keep running,
despite increasing hugely its overall contribution to climate change.
Similar solutions are also being proposed for others among the UK's most
polluting power stations.
These changes are encouraged by government policy that subsidises these
large and highly climate-destructive biomass projects using funds for
renewable energy, rather than limiting these to schemes for energy
production and conservation that actually will help to combat climate
Around 50 protesters spread with their banners in front of the banks
lining Princes St which Grocer's Hall lies in a gated courtyard behind,
making no attempt to enter the gates or to prevent people from entering
or leaving them. They handed out leaflets to people walking along the
street - mainly city workers going to or from lunch - explaining why
they were protesting and the need for proper renewable energy rather
than the 'greenwash' of schemes such as this that actually make the
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett spoke briefly, and posed with
members of the Green Party who were taking part in the protest, which
was organised by Biofuel Watch supported by a wide range of groups
including Campaign Against Climate Change, Carbon Trade Watch, Christian
Ecology Link, Climate Justice Collective, Coal Action Network, Coal
Action Scotland, Colombia Solidarity Campaign, Corporate Watch, Frack
Free Somerset, Fuel Poverty Action, Gaia Foundation, London Mining
Network, London Rising Tide, Occupy London Energy Equity and Environment
Bring Shaker Aamer Home From Guantanamo
Parliament Square, Westminster. Wed 24 Apr 2013
'Shaker Aamer 12 Years No Crime! Where's the
117,387 signatures on a petition to bring Shaker Aamer home from
Guantanamo led to a debate by MPs in Westminster Hall today, which was
followed by a protest against his detention without rights for 11
years, calling for him to be brought home now.
The protesters, many of whom had been in to Parliament to listen to
the debate which had followed the petition with over a hundred thousand
signatures, were setting up the protest on the pavement of Parliament
Square facing the House of Commons when I arrived. They had been pleased
with the debate, with a number of speakers calling for the release of
Shaker Aamer. Seventeen MPs spoke, mainly from the Labour Party, but
including Conservative MP Jane Ellison, the MP for Battersea, where
Aamer's family lives and a strong supporter of the campaign for his
release who had secured the debate. She hopes later in the year to
request a debate in the House of Commons where a motion could be passed.
I returned to the protest later, when more people had arrived, but I
missed the visit of several MPs to show their support, but was able to
hear and photograph Ellison talking with the protesters.
Recently the true reason for the continued detention of Aamer in
Guantanamo despite his clearance for release, long published on the web,
has emerged in the mass media. Both the US and UK authorities would be
highly embarrassed by the evidence he would give about his own torture
and that of others, and in particular of the complicity of British
agents in torture at Bagram and in Guantanamo. The US would happy to be
released to a country where he would be locked up and never seen again,
but not to the UK, where he would be free to give the evidence (some of
which he has already given to Scotland Yard detectives who recently
visited Guantanamo) in court.
Aamer has now been detained for more than 11 years, despite there being
no evidence against him. He has UK permanent resident status and is
married to a British citizen and has four British children. He has been
in poor health because of his mistreatment in Guantamo for some years,
and along with 85 other detainees in Guantanamo has been on hunger
strike. He is still being routinely beaten up - whenever he needs a
bottle of water, his medicine or a shower, the guards come in and beat
him up. In an article published on Sunday in The Independent he vividly
describes his life there, and why he is on hunger strike, along with
over a hundred of the other prisoners there. They are demanding that
their basic human rights be respected.
It's time that the UK government really told the US that he must be
released - and that the governments simply have to face the consequences
that may ensue. The facts about torture are now largely public and
totally indefensible and it is time for justice to be done.
Protest the Privatisation of NHS
Old Palace Yard, Westminster. Wed 24 April
'Health minister Jeremy Hunt' strangles a patient
in front of the Unite 'Wheel of Fortune
Unite's 'Wheel of Fortune' game show hosted by 'David Cameron' and
'Jeremy Hunt', was a part of protests against the controversial
section 75 NHS regulations which open it to full competitive tendering
being debated today in the House of Lords.
Unite's 'Wheel of Fortune' was not just a game, but was marked
out with the costs we can expect to have to pay for various medical
procedures if the backdoor privatisation accelerated by the section 75
NHS regulations goes ahead. They fear "that the coalition’s NHS
policies, including a multi billion pound funding squeeze coupled with a
massive reorganisation, will destroy the 65 year old health service,
paving the way for a new marketised system where paying up to £10,000
for maternity costs or £13,450 for a new hip is the norm."
Rachel Maskell, head of health at Unite in a length statement said that
already more than £20 billion of health costs go to private companies,
who take their decisions on the basis of profit rather than the
interests of patients.
"Already, one of the most powerful figures in the NHS, Malcolm
Grant, has warned that healthcare free at the point of use in
England, is at risk, which is why we must fight to stop the private
sector being given a free pass to our NHS."
Previous huge public outcry about the regulations meant they had to be
re-written, but the revised version still put the interests of private
companies before those of patients and mean that "Sixty-five years
of healthcare based on need and not the ability to pay is at stake."
The protest by Unite and others fighting to save the NHS came before
the House of Lords was to debate a fatal motion laid before parliament
by former Labour health minister Lord Hunt, calling for the regulations
to be annulled on the grounds that they do not implement the assurances
given to Parliament "that NHS commissioners would be free to
commission services in the way they consider in the best interests of
NHS patients", a view which is widely held across the whole
medical profession and others concerned with the future of the NHS.
A group of around 50 campaigners was continuing the protest two and a
half hours later when I left.
Stand Off at Venezuela Embassy
South Kensington, London. Sat 20 Apr 2013
Supporters of President Maduro have a heated
discussion about how they should protect the Embassy
Supporters of President Maduro and of losing candidate Henrique
Capriles faced each other at the Venezuelan Embassy in London in a
boisterous shouting match. The Union of South American Nations has
endorsed Maduro's win - but the US which hated Chavez has doubts, and
is perhaps hoping to back another coup.
When I arrived at the Venezuelan embassy there were around 25 people
demonstrating in support of President Maduro along the wall of the
embassy, where they had taped up various banners and posters in support
of the South American left. They had come to defend the embassy, where
supporters of the Venezuelan opposition Henrique Capriles had harassed
Embassy workers earlier in the week as they left work. There was one
woman protesting against them, and a handful of other opposition
supporters standing around.
As more people arrived, the numbers changed dramatically and soon the
supporters of Chavez were outnumbered several times, and both groups
were shouting noisily at each other.
Many of the Capriles supporters had brought their Venezuelan ID cards
and waved these, shouting that the supporters of Maduro were not
Venezuelan. And certainly not all of them were, with both English
radical leftists and Latin American refugees from several countries
supporting Maduro and the Chavez revolution in Venezuela. "Go back to
Havana" the Caprilists shouted, and the Maduro supporters countered with
"Go back to Miama", the home of many of the anti-Castro Cubans supported
by the US CIA.
"Bad loser, Bad loser, Bad loser - you lost, you lost, you lost"
shouted the Maduro supporters, taking up the 'Occupy' slogan 'This is
what democracy looks like'. The reply came that Maduro had won by fraud.
His victory was certainly closer than expected and the Venezuela's
National Electoral Council (CNE) has now announced that they will make a
100% audit of the votes in an attempt to get the opposition to admit
they they did lose. They had already certified the result and audited
over half the votes to verify this, and it seems unlikely that looking
at the rest will change the result, which has already been widely
accepted both inside the country and also in the rest of the world -
apart from the USA.
The USA hated Chavez, and are widely believed to have been behind the
2002 military coup that ousted Chavez - and said to be backing the
current opposition to Maduro's election. For them - as apparently for
the supporters of Capriles - elections and democracy are fine so long as
they come up with the result that they want.
Maduro's support comes largely from the workers in Venezuela, for whom
the Chavez 'revolution' has seen real gains, including much improved
healthcare. Many of those who were there to support him today had come
to Britain as refugees - largely as a result of US-backed military coups
in their countries. Their support for Chavez, and after him Maduro is
Those Venezuelan citizens who are here to work are largely from the
middle-class where support for the opposition is strong. So many of them
have Venezuelan ID cards. As a group they were noticeably more
middle-class and appeared largely to be from the section of the
Venezuelan population with European ancestry, while the Maduro
supporters were clearly from very mixed populations.
Maduro gained a larger share of the vote in the recent election than
most politicians elected to lead countries in the West, where many US
presidents and UK prime ministers have led our country on the basis of
minority votes, notably George Bush Junior, who actually lost the
election. There were no 'hanging chads' in Venezuela.
Copts Say End Egyptian Persecution
Old Palace Yard, Westminster, London. Sat 20 Apr 2013
Man holds up crucifix towards stage and giant
screen opposite Parliament
UK Copts protested opposite Parliament against the new fascist
regime in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood led government is
attacking freedom, muzzling the press, undermining the legal system
and encourging attacks on religious minorities.
On April 8, Egyptian security forces and some civilians launched an
attack on St Mark's Cathedral in Cairo, where a mass funeral had been
held for 5 Copts who had been killed in violent clashes in the northern
suburbs of Cairo. When the hundreds of worshippers tried to leave they
were attacked with stones and Molotov cocktails thrown from nearby
buildings by local residents and they retreated back into the cathedral.
Clashes continued on the streets outside, and shots were fired into the
Police came and fired tear gas into the cathedral complex. One Copt was
killed outside the Cathedral, and 84 people were injured, including 11
police. After the attack President Morsi spoke with Pope Tawadros II and
issued a statement that he had given orders that the police guard the
cathedral and that the state would protect the lives of both Christians
The attack is part of a continuing series of attacks of Copts in Egypt,
which the police have done little to stop, and Copts feel the
authorities are encouraging popular feeling against them, but both the
scale of this attack and that it was on the cathedral are worrying
The Copts feel very much threatened by the increasing violence against
them in Egypt which they link with the association of the ruling Muslim
Brotherhood with criminal elements which it gives protection to. They
see is as a part of a growing Islamicisation which is also undermining
Egypt's judicial system, and as a deliberate attack on all opposition,
including the liberal and left political opposition as well as all
minority religious groups.
Around a hundred people attended the rally where there were speeches,
performances and prayers. The speakers were at pains to make clear that
they were not against Muslims, but only those who wished to persecute
minorities and turn Egypt into an Islamic state, and the speaker who got
the warmest welcome at the event was an Egyptian Muslim. They called on
the British government to stop supporting the current fascist regime in
Egypt, but rather to put pressure on the Egyptian government to uphold
human and civil rights.
Armenians Remember the Genocide
Oxford St to Whitehall, London, Sat 20 Apr 2013
Armenian scouts carried flags and wreaths at the
head of the procession
Hundreds of Armenians joined in the procession through London, led
by Armenian scouts - male and female - carrying flags and 3 wreaths.
Many had large placards about the Armenian genocide and demanding that
Turkey recognise it - as, according to the placards, 22 countries
already have - as a condition of entry into the EU. They also demand
that the UK government should recognise it and that it should be
taught on the national curriculum.
Some carried a placard with a picture of Hrant Dink (1954-2007),
described as 'The 1,500,001st Victim of The Armenian Genocide'. The
former editor of the Istanbul Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos, he was
prosecuted under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code which makes it a
crime to publicly denigrate the Turkish government, republic or nation.
After having received many death threats he was assassinated by a 17
year old Turkish Nationalist in January 2007.
The procession started on Oxford St and then turned down Regent St,
walking past Piccadilly Circus into Haymarket and on to Trafalgar Square
before turning down Whitehall where it ended with a ceremony at the
Cenotaph where the 3 wreaths remembering the Armenian Genocide, from the
Armenian Embassy, from the Armenian Community & Church Council, and
from the UK Diocese of the Armenian Orthodox Church, were laid by Bishop
Vahan Hovhannesian, Primate of the Armenian Orthodox Church in the UK
& Ireland and others. After several short speeches and prayers the
Armenians moved onto the pavement. I left them there before they walked
the short distance to St Margaret’s Church beside Westminster Abbey,
where HG Bishop Vahan Hovhanessia was to lead a memorial service a
On 24 April 1915 the Turkish authorities arrested around a thousand
leading members of the Armenian community in the capital city of
Constantinople (now Istanbul) and murdered them. They went on to disarm
and kill around 300,000 Armenian men who had been conscripted into the
Turkish Army. The next stage in the attempt to eliminate the Armenian
people included, in the words of the Campaign for Recognition of the
Armenian Genocide, "mass killings, deportations and death marches of
women, children and elderly men into the Syrian Desert. During those
marches, many of the weak or exhausted were killed or died. Women were
raped. The deportees were deprived of food and water. Starvation and
dehydration became commonplace."
Roughly 70% of the Armenian population - about 1.5 million were killed,
mostly in 1915, although the massacres and deportations continued in
1916 and on a smaller scale until 1923.
The Armenians were in the way of the Turkish policy of creating a
single homogeneous Turkish nation, having a strong national identity
with their Christian heritage at its centre. The Turks, angered by the
Armenian desire for independence, decided that the only solution was to
get rid of them from the Turkish empire. The Turkish government still
refuse to accept that their country had a policy of genocide, explaining
the deaths as the result of a civil war. But the Armenians had no
weapons or organisation to carry out any war.
When the UN was set up after the Second World War, one of its early
resolutions was one on 'The Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of
Genocide' and it was proposed by Raphael Lemkin who had coined the term
genocide, describing it as "The sort of thing Hitler did to the Jews and
the Turks did to the Armenians."
Although the UN Commission on Human Rights has described it as genocide
and many countries around the world have recognised it in their
parliaments, the UK has still to make such a declaration, and the main
aim of this annual march is to persuade our government to officially
recognise the Armenian genocide.
Armenians state that the "request for recognition is a moral issue
that would restore truth and justice and lead toward reconciliation."
Supreme Court Nyamgiri Decision
Berkeley St, London. Thu 18 Apr 2013
Foil Vedanta celebrate the Indian Supreme Court
sending the Nyamgiri decision to the local peoples councils
Protesters came to the UK headquarters of Vedanta after the Indian
Supreme Court ruled that the local peoples councils should consider
the religious and cultural aspects of the Dongria Kondh's Niyamgiri
Hills and come to a decision in 3 months.
Despite heavy rain, protesters at Vedanta's UK HQ were in good spirits
after the Indian Supreme Court ruling - seen by some as a landmark
decision - that it should be up to the local people's councils to decide
whether the company should be allowed to destroy the Dongria Kondh's
sacred Niyamgiri Hills.
The case came to the Supreme Court after the Odisha Mining Corporation
and Vedanta appealed against a 2010 order by the Ministry of Environment
and Forests (MoEF) which stopped the mining continuing.
Around a dozen protesters from Foil Vedanta turned up at very short
notice for the protest outside Vendanta's headquarters in Mayfair.
Vedanta wants to destroy the Niyamgiri hills to supply bauxite for its
aluminium smelters, and after they were stopped from mining appealed to
the Indian Supreme Court. They ruled today that Vedanta had failed to
consult the people in the area properly and that the local 'gram sabha'
or village councils must come to a decision based on the religious and
cultural aspects of the proposed mining in the next three months and
that this should then be passed on to the MoEF as a basis for their
The protests stood behind a banner reading 'MoEF: No U Turn on
Niyamgiri' and held up placards about the various environmental
and other crimes committed by Vedanta in India and elsewhere, as well as
a large picture of Vedanta boss Anil Agarwal with the captions
'Wanted' and 'Found Guilty'. As well as calling for a
stop to the threat of destruction of the sacred mountains, they also
called for Vedanta to be de-listed from the London Stock Exchange for
poor corporate governance and human rights crimes.
The protesters also called on the Indian authorities to ensure that
neither Vedanta or the state police exercise undue or illegal influence
on the village councils which have been tasked with making the decision.
Foil Vedanta's Samarendra Das stated:
"For ten years Vedanta has harassed local people and committed
major abuses and illegalities in its attempt to push this flagship
project through. For ten years farmers, Dalits and Adivasis living
around Niyamgiri have fought to save their traditional communities
and their sacred mountain, from a mine which would give just four
and half years worth of bauxite for the 6 million ton per year
refinery as planned by Vedanta Aluminium.
The Supreme Court is right that decision on the mine should be
with those affected by it – the ancient inhabitants of the mountain.
But the Dongria and others have stated their disagreement over and
over again through Gram Sabha’s and mass rallies. We know that
Vedanta officials have been very active in lobbying the judges
leading up to this decision, and are concerned that the villagers
will be under heavy harassment from Orissa state and Vedanta
officials. We call for many independent observers to oversee this
The British government have tried to influence the decision with, with
David Cameron putting pressure on Indian PM Manmohan Singh during his
visit in February to allow Vedanta to mine the sacred mountain.
G4S - Palestinian Prisoners Day
Victoria St, London. Wed 17 Apr 2013
Protesters outside the office block containing the
Protesters stood with banners and placards handing out leaflets to
workers and shoppers making their way home past the Victoria UK HQ of
G4S about the thousands of Palestinians, many held without trial and
tortured in Israeli jails serviced by G4S.
By the time I left the protest there was a small crowd of more than 50
protesters, mainly from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign
which had organised the event on International Palestinian Political
Prisoners Day, as well as some from the other organisations supporting
it, including War On Want, Action for Palestinian Children, Amos Trust,
Fire Brigades Union, Friends of Al-Aqsa UK, ICAHD UK, Jews for Justice
for Palestinians, Lib-Dems Friends of Palestine, Public and Commercial
Services Union (PCS), Stop G4S Campaign, UNISON and UNITE the Union
(there was another protest at the same site by Innovative Minds later in
the week.) More were still arriving as some protesters came to take part
after leaving work.
A steady stream of people were walking past, mainly on their way to
catch trains at nearby Victoria station, and many took leaflets and a
few stopped to ask about the protest and the campaign. The protest was
outside the offices of G4S, best known to the public for their failure
to meet the contract they had agreed for the Olympic security.
G4S run or help to run a number of prisons and detention centres in
Israel, where over 5000 Palestinians are detained. Many of them are
detained without charge, and have not had a trial. Israel practices
'administrative detention' and some prisoners are held for many years
without trial. Physical illtreament of prisoners and torture are
commonplace, and Israel violates the 4th Geneva Convention on the
treatment of prisoners on a routine daily basis.
Palestinian are held in jails in Israel, and family members face many
problems in trying to visit them and often lawyers have only minimal
contact. Some prisoners have been denied visits for years. Israeli jails
were found by the Israeli High Court to have tortured prisoners in the
1990s, and some interrogation techniques formerly in routine use were
banned. But research in Israel has shown that torture continues,
according to the PSC:
The most common forms of abuse are still beating,
kicking, stepping on shackles, forcing the detainee into
painful positions, placing a urine-soaked bag over his
head, violent shaking, sleep deprivation, prolonged
shackling behind the back, cursing, threats (for example
to set dogs onto the arrested person or to electrocute
him or to harm his family), humiliations such as strip
searches and depriving the detainee of essential needs.
Female prisoners, although relatively few in number,
also report degrading treatment amounting to torture,
including enforced nakedness and threats of rape
The object of the torture is usually to get prisoners to implicate
others and also to obtain forced confessions. These are then written out
in Hebrew, which few Palestinians can read, and they are then forced to
Among those detained each year are around 700 children from the age of
12 up. Palestinian politicians are also often detained - including 39
members of the Palestinian parliament elected in 2006 - 15 of them are
still in jail, of which 8 are in administrative detention, as a part of
a deliberate policy of undermining democracy in Palestine.
Don't Hang Prof Bhullar
Downing St, London. Tue 16 Apr 2013
Sikhs began the vigil opposite Downing St last Friday
The vigil by Sikhs at Downing St against the hanging of Professor
Bhullar, on death row in India for 18 years convicted without
evidence for a Delhi bombing, started on Friday, hopes to continue
despite being on the Thatcher funeral route.
Since Friday a small group of Sikh protests have been sitting and
standing opposite Downing St with placards, banners and Sikh pennants
calling for justice in India and an end to the death penalty. On April
12th this year his final appeal for the death penalty to be reduced to
life imprisonment was rejected by the Indian courts. The protesters want
Prime Minister to argue the human rights case with Indian Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh and to put pressure on him both to stop capital
punishment completely in India and to prevent the hanging of Bhullar.
They fear that the Indian government will take advantage of the current
traditional New Year (Vaisakhi or Baisakhi) festivities by Sikhs and
others to hang him without the protests that would otherwise be
Professor Bhullar, who taught electrical engineering, was a political
activist, and his father, uncle and best friend were all abducted and
tortured to death by police in the early 1990s. When he was falsely
accused of bombing the All India Youth Congress in Delhi in 1993, he
fled to Germany as he had no faith in Indian justice, and sought
His asylum claim was turned down in 1995 and he was deported to India;
too late the German courts ruled his deportation to be illegal as his
life was in danger in India. Convicted on the basis of a forced
confession after the witnesses to the bombing did not identify him, he
was sentenced to death, and has been on death row for 18 years. During
this time his physical and mental health have deteriorated and he is now
in a very poor condition, with pleas being made for his release or the
reduction of his sentence on health grounds.
Some of the protesters from the Kesri Lehar or 'I Pledge Orange'
campaign have been at the vigil since Friday, with others coming for
shorter periods. They say they have no intention of protesting as Mrs
Thatcher's coffin is taken past or in any way showing disrespect, but
hope to be able to continue their protest. The council who apparently
control the site and to who the police have referred them have not
returned their calls or and have avoided talking to them.
Baroness Thatcher's coffin was taken to the Houses of Parliament this
afternoon and will rest in the chapel of St Mary Undercroft overnight.
It will leave the Palace of Westminster tomorrow morning in a hearse at
10am and go up Whitehall and then on to St Clement Danes Church. The
route will be lined by service personnel who could hide the Sikh vigil
from the TV cameras which have been set up along the route.
The Sikhs were there, and I was told few people had come to this area
to watch the funeral procession, just those working in the nearby
offices who came out at the last moment.
Outlaw Caste Discrimination
Parliament Square, London. Tue 16 Apr 2013
Women protesters call for a legal ban on caste
CasteWatchUK and the Dalit Solidarity Network organised a protest
at Parliament calling on MPs to uphold the stand against caste
discrimination taken by the House of Lords who passed an amendment in
March for it to be added to the 2010 Equality Act.
Around 500 people from various groups around the country protested
noisily, shouting 'No' to the caste system this afternoon in Parliament
Square. Coming from various groups around London and in the Midlands and
including Ravadissia and Buddhist groups as well as others concerned
with human rights, they were there to encourage Parliament to make a
stand for human rights. A number of the banners had images of Dr B
R Ambedkar (1891-1956), born into an 'untouchable' caste and a
great campaigner against caste discrimination and the four 'varnas' of
Hindu society - below which come the 'untouchables' or Dalits. Ambedkar
converted to Buddhism, and was followed by many Dalits.
One of the first Dalits to gain a university degree (and he later added
honours from Columbia University and the LSE. He practised law in India
and engaged in the struggle for independence, at times in bitter
opposition to Ghandi, and in 1947 was appointed the first law minister
of independent India and chaired the committee which drafted the new
Adopted in 1949, this enshrined civil liberties and support for the
'scheduled castes' and 'scheduled tribes', and made discrimination on
the basis of caste illegal in India. But many Indians living in the UK
find that they are discriminated against because of their caste, and
English equality laws do not presently prohibit this.
In March, the House of Lords was debating the Enterprise and Regulatory
Reform (ERR) Bill” and Peers of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG)
for Dalits moved an amendment to insert a new clause in the Equality Act
2010 to include caste in the definition of race. It was passed with a
large majority, and has now come back to the House of Commons.
The government - perhaps because of lobbying by various groups
dominated by higher caste Indians who want no change to the status quo -
have not been keen to accept this amendment, and instead propose merely
paying consultants to produce educational material against caste
discrimination, which fails to effectively tackle the problem. The
protesters came to try to persuade them that a change in the law is
necessary to make caste discrimination illegal - just as we have
legislated against other aspects of racial discrimination (and
discrimination on grounds of gender or sexual orientation) and to show
that the people of this country are opposed to any form of
discrimination against any of its citizens.
Release Palestinian Prisoners
Kentish Town, London. Sat 13 April 2013
call for release of prisoners, especially those from Camden's twin
town Abu Dis
The Camden Abu Dis Friendship association handed out leaflets in
Kentish Town calling for the release from Israeli jails of seriously
ill political prisoner Amer Bahar from their twin town of Abu Dis near
Jerusalem and hunger striker Samer Issawi.
When I went past the group close to Kentish Town Station there were six
protesters, four wearing blindfolds and holding large posters and two
handing out leaflets and collecting signatures on a petition for their
Camden is twinned with Abu Dis, a Palestinian town on the edge of East
Jerusalem, and the Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association (CADFA) is a
registered charity which exists to promote human rights and respect for
international humanitarian law in Abu Dis, working with schools and
holding various events. Volunteers visit the town and take part in
various community projects including English teaching, health and youth
work, with a special programe for young people under 30. Palestinian
volunteers also work in Abu Dis with CADFA educational projects at a
community centre there. CADFA have also issued regular reports on the
human rights situation there, though the latest online is dated February
Amer Bahar is a political prisoner from Abu Dis who was reported to be
suffering from stomach pains and bleeding caused by serious stomach
infections, and an appeal has been made for his release so he can
receive proper treatment, not avaialable in jail.
Samer Issawi was released from an Israeli jail where he had been
serving a 26 year sentence in 2011 as a part of the prisoner release in
exchange for Israeli solider Gilad Shalit. He was rearrested in July
2012 accused of attempting to establish a Hammas terrorist cell in the
occupied West Bank and has been on hunger strike since 1 Aug 2012,
refusing vitamin supplements and taking only water and some sugar. He is
in a very weak condition and doctors say he may die at any moment and
could suffer permanent brain damage. The Israeli government has tried to
negotiate a deal in which he would be released into exile, but he has
His hunger strike is against the Israeli use of administrative
detention, which results in Palestinians being held without charges,
sometimes for up to ten years. The Palestinian Prisoners Society say
that the prison administration has engaged in unfair and illegal
practices against him and other prisoners, including forcing him to wear
leg cuffs between 8 am and 8 pm, and preventing him from sitting on a
chair in his prison hospital room.
In a statement his sister and lawyer Shireen al-Essawy is reported as
saying: "Samer will not accept to be sent into exile especially while
Israel is escalating its violations that target the very existence of
the Palestinians in their homes and lands." He has repeatedly made clear
that he is willing to die for the cause of equal rights for the
Palestinian people and is likely to do so very soon.
Who wants to evict a Millionaire?
Kings Cross and Highgate, London. Sat 13 Apr 2013
Tories Against the (Bedroom) Tax protester on the
Northern Line as UK Uncut travel to Archway
Hundreds of UK Uncut supporters met at Kings Cross before
travelling to party outside the Highgate home of Tory Peer Lord Freud,
one of the millionaire architects of the bedroom tax in a lively but
peaceful protest against this and other iniquitous new taxes and
Baron Freud, a great grandson of the famed Sigumund, made
millions on various deals as an investment banker before retiring from
the city aged 53 in 2003, and three years later was appointed by Tony
Blair to review the welfare and benefits system. He recommended a large
role for the private sector in welfare and measures to encourage the
disabled and single parents back into work; in 2008 he became an adviser
on welfare to the New Labour government, and helped produce a white
paper which would have required those on benefits either to work for
them or take part in training.
Freud joined the Conservative party in 2009, and after being given a
life peerage as Baron Freud became a shadow minister for welfare, and is
now in the coalition government in charge of benefit reforms.
Measures which come into force now or in the next few months include
the 'bedroom tax' which cuts housing benefits to those who have more
rooms which, according to a rigidly applied formula, are declared spare.
This will hit those who are foster carers, the disabled and single
parents disproportionately, and many of those affected will be unable to
pay the extra rents and will face eviction. Among those hit will be the
disabled who have had expensive special adaptions to their homes and now
have to move - and some 17,000 blind people. The tax pretends to be
designed to reduce the pressure on the housing market by making people
move into smaller homes, but these seldom available, particularly in
The benefits cap, being brought into effect across the country in
stages by September puts a strict limit on the amounts that people may
receive, and it seems inevitable that this will lead to many thousands
being evicted, particularly in high rent areas such as London.
Other measures include a cut in legal aid and council tax benefits and
an end to disability living allowances. Those benefits which remain will
rise by less than inflation - a cut in real terms. And at the same time
the 50p tax rate is being abolished, saving 13,000 millionaires around
Several hundred people met in the concourse of Kings Cross station,
watched by a large number of police, mainly around the edges of the
area. The protesters marched off around noon, going down into the
Underground station and taking the Northern Line to Archway.
Two groups then marched by different routes the mile or so to Baron
Freud's house in Dartmouth Park, where police were standing outside
waiting for them. The protesters made no attempt to enter the house but
brought chairs, mattresses, a sofabed and pillows and held a bedroom tax
protest party on the street outside.
First was a dramatic reading of a fairy tale in which the wicked lord
saw the error of his ways, but we then got down to earth with a detailed
exposition of some of the effects of the benefit cuts.
There was a huge cheer when it was announced that disabled activists
from DPAC (Disabled Persons Against Cuts) had visited the home of Ian
Duncan Smith and delivered an eviction notice there. Postcards were
distributed and people urged to get into groups of two or three and to
write together a postcard to Lord Freud, which UK Uncut would deliver.
Someone from most of the groups then came to the microphone to read out
their cards, though one or two declined to do so as there messages were
unsuitable with all the police standing around.
Next was a quiz, with volunteers answering multiple choice questions
about the various benefits and benefit cuts, with great hilarity and
audience partition, after which a number of statements from people
unable to attend the protest - mainly because of ill health - about the
effect of the benefit cuts and bedroom tax on them.
There were a number of speakers at the event, including those from
other groups fighting against the cuts including those from Barnet and
the East End. Natalie Bennett, the Green Party leader, who had
come on the event from Kings Cross as a supporter of UK Uncut gave a
forceful speech that was highly appreciated by the protesters, and was
followed by Owen Jones, who gave a superb performance that had
everyone showing enthusiastic support. After he had spoken the
occasional drizzle had turned into light rain, and although the protest
was continuing many had decided it was time to leave, and I also left.
'3 Cosas' -Sick Pay, Holidays
Senate House, University of London. Wed 10 Apr 2013
The protesters making a noise in the open lobby
under the Senate House
Cleaners and other outsourced workers at the University of London
held a noisy protest at Senate House calling for the same sick pay,
holidays and pensions as directly employed workers there - the 3
causes in their continuing '3 Cosas Campaign.'
Currently workers on the site who are employed by contractors rather
than by the University of London's central administration have inferior
conditions of employment to directly employed workers, though they carry
out essential work on the same site.
Outsourced workers are generally only entitled to the minimum Statutory
Sick Pay (SSP), with no payment for the first three days out of work,
after which they get the state provision of £85.85 per week in London.
Those who are on the university payroll get considerable extra benefits
on top of the SSP, depending on their length of service. A worker who
has been in the job for more than five years is eligible for full pay
for the first six months of absence, and then a further six months on
half pay plus SSP (so long as this total does not exceed their normal
pay.) The university can at its discretion increase the period of sick
pay in exceptional cases.
Holiday entitlement for outsourced works is also usually the statutory
minimum of 28 days paid holiday (including bank holidays) but some of
the caterers are on 'zero hour contracts' which means they get no
holiday pay at all. Last year when many university residential premises
were in use for the Olympics, many cleaning staff were also prevented
from taking any holidays during the summer period.
Direct employees at the university get between 33 and 38 normal days
paid leave (including bank holidays) and also a number of 'school
closure days', which brings some up to 44 days. The 3 Cosas Campaign is
calling for similar treatment, as well as to have more flexibility over
when they may take their holidays. Many of the workers have families in
South America or Africa, and given the high travel costs in visiting
them would like to be able to take longer than two week breaks.
Few outsourced workers have bought into pension schemes as the terms
available to them are so poor. They want a provision with equal payments
and benefits as the SAUL scheme for non-academic employees of the
University of London, which costs is 6% of their gross salary and has an
employer contribution of 13%.
Today's protest was organised by the Industrial Workers of Great
Britain (IWGB), the union which now represents many of the cleaners at
the university, and was supported by students, including a group of
those who occupied Sussex University against the outsourcing of
catering, cleaning, security, and other jobs there, and trade unionists,
including some from the RMT and Unison. Around 80 protesters met up in
the Senate House car park off Russell Square, with banners, IWGB flags,
placards and drums, air-horns and megaphones. After loudly stating the
basis of their demands, and chanting 'Sick Pay, Holidays, Pensions' the
group with flags waving and drums beating marched into the lobby area
underneath the Senate House tower and continued to state their demands
noisily for around 10 minutes, watched by a few security men between
them and the entrance.
The group then marched out and around the side of the building to an
entrance opposite the North Entrance of the British Museum, where they
attracted the attention of many of those visiting. Outside this doorway,
Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party, gave a brief message of
support, which, like the other short speeches, was translated into
Spanish for the benefit of some of the workers.
The protesters continued around the building to protest outside the
entrance to Stewart House which contains most of the offices dealing
with workers. After more noisy protests, the group, by now a little
smaller as some had to leave for work or lectures returned for a final
very noisy protest in the lobby underneath the main Senate House tower.
I left as the protest was finishing with the usual reminder to the
university that the protests will continue until the workers get justice
- "We'll be back!"
Feathers Fly in Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square, London. Sat 6 Apr 2013
A pillowfighter on a man's shoulders in
Hundreds turned up armed with pillows for the Trafalgar Square
pillow fight battle on World Pillow Fight Day, adults and a few
children enjoying the free fun event organised by the urban playground
movement here and in other cities around the world.
The urban playground movement aims to make cities into more public and
social spaces by encouraging unique happenings like today's pillow
fight. It aims to partially replace "passive, non-social, branded
consumption experiences like watching television" and to consciously
reject "the blight on our cities caused by the endless creep of
advertising into public space." They hope this will result in "a
global community of participants, not consumers."
It was perhaps unfortunate that one company had decided to make use of
the event as a PR stunt by bringing a team of young women and handing
out free pillows with prominent branding, which seemed to directly
subvert the aim of the event. But despite this, it was a largely
unbranded event, with hundreds bringing their own cushions and pillows
to use as weapons, and having great fun wielding them.
There were around 90 pillow fights planned for today in cities in
around 30 countries around the world. Two had been planned for London,
but relatively few people with pillows turned up in Hyde Park and the
park police prevented it from taking place. There were too many people
in Trafalgar Square for the heritage wardens to stop it had they tried,
and as well as over 500 taking an active part there were at least as
many watching the event. Which again was perhaps unfortunate as it is
meant to be something to take part in rather than a spectacle.
The fight started dead on time at 3pm, though a few small children had
not been able to wait. Soon there were feathers and down flying, and by
half an hour later the whole of the central area was covered. The fight
paused for a few seconds of half-time and then quickly restarted. I left
shortly after, as the dust was beginning to make my throat rather dry
and I needed a drink.
PMOI Protest Iraqi killings
Downing St, London. Sat 6 Apr 2013
The People's Mujahedin of Iran chant in unison, calling for an enquiry
into Iraqi killing in their camps
The People's Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI) protested in Whitehall
calling for an enquiry into the Iraqi attacks on Camp Liberty where
their members are held in February and previous attacks which have
killed and injured many of them.
The PMOI, also known as the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, (MEK) was formed as a
leftist political mass movement in Iran in 1965 and was one of the
groups that took part in the 1979 revolution against the Shah. After the
revolution it at first sided with Ayatollah Khomeni but was soon
involved in an armed struggle with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards,
eventually having to take refuge in neighbouring Iraq, where Saddam
Hussein gave it refuge.
After the US invasion of Iraq when its camps were bombed, a ceasefire
was agreed with the US and the MEK renounced violence and gave up its
arms - including 19 Chieftain tanks and the party became the main part
of the Iranian parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance
of Iran (NCRI), with its base in Paris. In Iraq, the roughly 5000 MEK
fighters were confined in the refugee Camp Ashraf, guarded by the US
military and declared by the US as protected persons under the Fourth
Geneva Convention. The camp was transferred to Iraqi control at the
start of 2009, and in 2012 those remaining were transferred to the
former US military base Camp Liberty in Bagdhad, renamed Camp Hurriya.
Both Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty have been attacked by Iraqi security
forces, with a raid in July 2009 on Camp Ashraf killing 11 and injuring
over 500. They also arrested 36, who were later released in near death
condition following an extended hunger strike. There was a further
attack in October 2010 and in January 2011, when 176 were wounded,
apparently by Iraqis paid by the Iranian government. In April 2011,
Iraqi security forces attacked again an 36 camp residents were killed
and 320 injured. Camp Liberty was attacked by the Iraqis on 9 Feb 2013
using mortars and rockets, with at least 7 deaths and many injuries. The
MEK residents have appealed to the UN Secretary General and the US for
help, and to be allowed to move back to Camp Ashraf, which has concrete
buildings which give greater protection.
The MEK is regarded as a terrorist group by both Iraq and Iran, but the
EU removed them from its list of terrorist groups in 2009 and the US in
2012. But they are alleged to have carried out severe human rights
abuses against former members. After they left Camp Ashraf there were
several allegations that mass graves were found there, but the MEK say
that these reports were part of a continuing Iranian demonization
campaign against them, and point out that US and UN investigations have
been unable to confirm the reports. Cables released by Wikileaks show
the US appear to support the MEK claims.
Around 50 members of the PMOI protested opposite Downing St calling on
the British government to support their demands for an enquiry into the
attacks and to protest against the rulers of Iran and Iraq they hold
No to Bedroom Tax & Benefit Caps
Downing St, London. Sat 6 Apr 2013
The protest was organised by the Counihan-Sanchez
The Counihan-Sanchez Family Housing Campaign from Kilburn organised
a protest opposite Downing St against the unfair Bedroom tax and
benefit caps which are effecting so many people and called for the GLA
to build more social housing.
The fight of the Counihan-Sanchez family to get fair treatment
from Brent Council after they honestly declared to the housing
department the income of £18 a week from a small patch of ground in
rural Ireland has been an inspiration to many. The council's response -
and that of local MP Glenda Jackson - shocked many and the continuing
campaign by the family and their supporters has alerted many to the
wider problems of social housing and housing benefits.
Although the protest was on a much smaller scale than last weekend's
Bedroom Tax protest with around 30 people taking an active part, it was
one that got the the roots of the issue and the very real problems that
austerity has already produced for many that will be greatly exacerbated
by the new tax and benefit changes. We heard about the real impact of
cuts on real people trying to live ordinary lives rather than the
opinions of the wealthy and out of touch that dominate political
policies and discourse and the media. From people who really know the
problems of living on - for example - £53 per week, week after week.
Among those who spoke at the open microphone was Adrienne from Harrow
who fought to get the council to give her proper housing for her and her
daughter after having been for a long time in unsatisfactory temporary
accomodation. A man from Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group spoke about
the suicide of Nigel Firminger after he worked for three months of work
without getting paid and was then denied a return to benefits; unable to
cope when he was to be evicted for rent arrears he took his own life.
The huge housing problems in London come from the failure over the past
thirty years to provide social housing for the many low paid workers
that support the city and keep it running, with a housing benefit system
that has simply acted as a subsidy for private landlords and driven up
rents. The cap on benefit will do nothing to solve the problem, but just
make life difficult or impossible for the poorest in our society. We
need more social housing and an end to poverty pay and of course more
The problem isn't confined to our inner cities. I returned home to be
told by my wife of a family living in our Surrey suburb who had been
refused any benefit and had no money at all for food or for their gas
and electricity meter and who had gone for help to a local church as
their only hope. They should be able to get referred to our local
foodbank - but at the earliest in three days time, and to get any
emergency payment will have to go to a Citizen's Advice Bureau in a
neighbouring area, around 7 miles away, who will then assess them and
get a decision from the County Council which may result in payment. They
had not been told how to do this, and had no money for the fare to the
CAB - and a medical condition that made walking a problem. The church
had fortunately been able to offer some advice and a little practical
support - as well as tea, cake and sympathy - when the walked in on a
Saturday morning, but this is a relatively rich country and it is surely
unacceptable for anyone to be left in such desperate circumstances.
Welfare reform shouldn't mean the end of support for those in extreme
Vaisakhi "Save a Live" Vigil
Old Palace Yard, Westminster, London. Sat 6 Apr 2013
Sikhs call for an end to the death penalty in
Thousands of Sikhs and others from across England came to
Parliament to back the Kesri Lehar vigil against the death penalty in
India where there are increasing fears that Balwant Singh Rajoana and
others among the 477 on death row will be hanged. The protest was
timed to take place at the Sikh festival of Vaisahki.
The Kesri Lehar or 'I Pledge Orange' campaign, takes
its name from the colour which stands for sacrifice in the Indian flag
and is also the colour of the Sikh flag and the dress worn by baptised
Sikhs which makes Vaisakhi such a colourful festival. It began as an
on-line campaign by the US-based Sikhs for Justice, and with the
strap-line 'the wave for justice' campaigns against the "ongoing
and, disturbing atrocities that are being committed in the Republic of
India, that, infringe the basic human rights of the minority
communities, which includes but is not limited to the Sikhs,
Christians, Muslims and Dalits (India's untouchables)."
An important part of the campaign is against the death penalty in
India, and the campaign in the UK with more than 120,000 signatures on
the petition led the House of Commons to recently debate and agree a
"That this House welcomes the national petition launched by the
Kesri Lehar campaign urging the UK Government to press the Indian
government to sign and ratify the Rome Statute of the International
Criminal Court and the UN Convention against Torture and other
Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which
encompasses the death penalty, with the result that India would
abolish the death penalty and lift this threat from Balwant Singh
Rajoana and others."
MP John McDonnell stated "the historical relationship between India and
Britain means that the UK Government is uniquely placed to urge the
Indian government to end the death penalty. Therefore I'm calling on the
UK Government to use every forum, every mechanism of communication
established with India both formal and informal, to press the Indian
government to halt the executions now and then to sign up to the UN
Convention opposing the death penalty" and he urged the British
government to get other European governments to join with them in urging
India to stop executions and sign the UN convention.
There are currently over 470 prisoners who have been sentenced to death
held in Indian prisons, some who have been there for many years, and
actual executions are rare.
Among the death row prisoners is Balwant Singh Rajoana, sentenced for
his part in a suicide bomb attack which killed a former Chief Minister
of Punjab, Beant Singh and 17 others in 1995. Sikhs held Beant Singh
responsible for the extra-judicial killing of over 25,000 Sikh civilians
during his period of office in a determined policy to stamp out the
activities of Sikh separatists who called for an independent Sikh state
of Khalistan. Rajoana was to be hanged in 2012, but the execution was
stayed after demands for clemency from some Sikh organisations. Recently
there have been renewed demands for his hanging.
Among those at today's rally opposite Parliament was a large group from
Derby, supporting Professor Devender Pal Singh Bhullar who has been on
death row in India for 18 years, for his alleged involvement in a car
bomb in Delhi. Supporters say there is no evidence to connect him with
the attack for which he was convicted.
Sikhs point to the way that the Indian government, police and legal
system discriminate against minorities, and their failure to take any
effective action against Hindu extremists, whose outrages against
minorities at times appear to have been encouraged by the authorities.
Thames Path: Cricklade to the Source
Cricklade to Kemble, Wiltshire. Thur 4 Apr 2013
Thames Head, where the Thames first becomes
The breakfast at the White Hart was disappointing. Particularly after
the day before at Buscot Manor, but it would have disappointed on any
day, but at least it didn't detain us long and we made an early start
with a quick walk around the town before joining the Thames path. When
we got a bit more of a walk around the town than we wanted, as flooding
on the North Meadow meant there was a diversion of the Thames Path,
taking us down a rather boring back street and on past the sports centre
to a path along a disused railway. We'd been warned about it earlier as
we bought sandwiches in the small supermarket on the High Street,
apparently there has been flooding there for almost a year, and the
diversion notice says "The Thames has changed course and is now
flowing over the Trail just inside Gloucestershire".
It wasn't a bad detour, taking us along a sheltered path on a rather
cold and windy day and we rejoined the old route where it joined the
railway line for a few hundred metres before we turned off and followed
its progress between a series of gravel pits, seeing the Thames for a
few hundred metres on the way. There was a bitter wind blowing across
the open water, with flurries of snow, and walking became a little
miserable, but eventually we reached Ashton Keynes. At its centre this
gets a little picturesque, and there are three crosses in various stages
of repair. We were disappointed the pub didn't open until noon, and went
to look at the church instead, and it was open and we spent a little
time inside, and since it was just noon when we came out, went back to
the pub for a pint or a coffee.
Past Ashton Keynes, the Thames disappears into a series of worked out
grave pits, and we were surprised on one of them to suddenly see the
Lower Mill Estate, a nature reserve with "eco-friendly luxury
second-homes" which is the curious brainchild of eccentric
millionaire Jeremy Paxton who died suddenly of an undected heart
condition in February, aged only 53. We saw little of the positive side
of this "vision for sustainable living alongside wildlife in the
countryside" and although it apparently includes distinctive
architect-designed modern buildings, those we saw at close range were
rather tedious. Paxton apparently sometimes used a 200 horse-power water
jet-pack to travel the 30 miles along the river from his riverside home
near Reading to the estate (possibly the only way to really navigate the
upper reaches, though it does have to pull a small boat behind to carry
the powerful engine so I doubt if it would be possible in the current
state of the river.) The publicity video calls "the ultimate toy", and,
like second homes, it seems essentially eco-unfriendly. He also managed
to get permission to abseil down the Shard for charity.
Past this we had a short walk along a busy road and then were in
another 'country park' - more old gravel pits. We sat at a picnic table
and ate our sandwiches, despite the bitter cold before hurrying on. The
Thames was a much narrower stream by now and there were some real fords
that tractors could use - or possibly passable with a decent pair of
At Ewen the path left the Thames again and went through the village on
the road for around a kilometer, joining it again where it met the road
and then going a couple of kilmetres more or less alongside of it to
Thames Head. The stream petered out in some long grass and a bit of a
swamp just below the A433, but the path went on, with some greener
patches of grass and a couple of puddles or ponds. We kept on the track
through a gate and past a few trees to a patch of stones marking the
completely dry site of the spring, marked by a stone as the source of
the River Thames. A couple of elderly men with a very amateur looking
camcorder asked if they could take some video of a film they were making
about the Thames and we were recorded at the spot. I took a picture of
my companions at the stone with Sam's camera (I needed to change my
battery as one had just run out) and then we made our way back to a
footpath that led off towards Kemble station.
We got there just a few minutes after the train to Swindon had left,
and had almost an hour to wait for the next. There was a very
comfortable-looking waiting room - but it was locked. It was too cold to
sit for an hour at the station. We crossed over and went out the other
side, past a pub that looked pretty closed and walked thorugh the
village to All Saints Church. It was locked. It's apparently an
interesting interior. Next door was Kemble House, Grade II listed and
dating from the late 17th century. We walked back to the station, now
just 10 minutes to wait. Except the train was 5 minutes late and was
terminating at Swindon instead of going on to Reading. There was
supposed to be a connection at Swindon and we were worried we might miss
it and we rushed across to the platform. But it was 15 minutes late.
There is something about station platforms that makes them icy cold, and
there was a truly cutting wind. The train was pretty full, but at least
we got a seat and after another change at Reading we were home at last.
Thames Path: Buscot to Cricklade
Buscot, Oxfordshire - Cricklade, Wiltshire. Wed 3 Apr 2013
St John the Baptist at Inglesham, saved by William Morris from the
threat of Gothicist 'restoration'
Buscot Manor was both comfortable and interesting, a bed and breakfast
in a traditional English manor house, but fortunately for the time of
year with a very efficient heating system. It was a welcoming place,
comfortable in an old-fashioned way. Our room wasn't one with a
four-poster bed, but it was large and comfortable, as was the breakfast,
served around a large table, and the conversation with the other guests
added to the experience as we were served a modern version of an
old-fashioned English breakfast. I ended up so full it was hard to get
up and start walking.
Before rejoining the Thames Path we made a tour of the village, which
seems largely owned by the National Trust. It's an interesting place,
although perhaps a little disappointing that its modernisation in the
second half of the nineteenth century - complete with its own
narrow-gauge rail system and a distillery manned by French workers -
seems to have left only sparse visible traces (they do include a very
large early concrete barn.) A couple of miles down the road is the
stately home built by one of the former inhabitants of the manor house
we had stayed in who wanted something considerably grander, but we
didn't have time for the detour and visit. We went to the church, but it
was locked because this was Easter week when they have various vestments
etc around, and then returned across the lock to walk along the Thames.
There were more bends and pillboxes and a bridge took us across the
river and on to St John's Lock, where we said hello to Old Father
Thames, originally made for the Crystal Palace in 1854, later relocated
to Thames Head and then moved here a few years ago for safety. This is
the highest lock on the Thames, and few boats go above the next bridge
we reached, Halfpenny Bridge close to the centre of Lechlade, although
theoretically the river is navigable to Cricklade.
We almost got stuck in Lechlade too, having gone into the town to buy
some sandwiches from the supermarket facing the market square, and
taking a look around inside the rather magnificent church, my companions
were snared into a tea-shop and I followed them. Finally they managed to
drage themselves out and we returned back down Thames St to rejoin the
Unfortunately this delay meant we really didn't have time to explore a
little around the mouth of the River Coln and the start of the Thames
and Severn canal, abandoned in 1927, parts of which have now been
restored. We cpntinued on the path to the Church of St John the Baptist
at Inglesham, a splendid medieval survival thanks to the efforts of
William Morris, who along with his pre-Raphaelite friends founded the
Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) or 'Anti-Scrape'
to oppose the gothicisation of buildings such as these.
The next section of the Thames Path is probably the least satisfactory
parts of the whole path, with a lengthy diversion along the verges of
the busy A361. Perhaps at some point in the canal restoration it would
be possible to divert along its banks, perhaps rejoining the Thames at
Kempsford which we finally saw across the river. I don't know if the
George there is open during the afternoon, but it was a great
disappointment on coming into the next village, Castle Eaton, that The
Red Lion, which advertises itself as the 'first pub on the Thames' is
closed most afternoons. At least we were able to go inside the village
church, but otherwise this was a less impressive village than most and I
was glad when we left it to walk beside the Thames to Cricklade.
It seemed a long trek to Cricklade, the sun getting lower and the
river going every direction except a straight line to there. Although
some have changed to other uses, the High Street there seems well
supplied with pubs, and we had rooms booked at the poshest and oldest,
the White Hart, the principal inn at Cricklade since the time of
Elizabeth 1. They were in a modern extension at the back of the inn. It
was comfortable but lacked the character of the manor house of the
previous night, and we got a decent Indian meal a little further up the
Thames Path: Shifford to Buscot
Hinton Waldrist - Buscot, Oxfordshire. Tue 2 Apr 2013
The Thames meanders across a flat flood plain (but
the cylindrical perspective exaggerates the curve a little)
The Thames Path as you get towards the source of the river goes through
some fairly isolated areas, little served by public transport. My wife
and son had decided they needed to book a couple of nights bed and
breakfast to finish it, and I went with them. They had thought that
early April would be a good time to walk, expecting normal spring
weather, but when we set off from home on Tuesday morning the
temperature was only just coming up to zero after a cold night. Despite
the sun it didn't get more than a degree or so warmer all day, but we
were well wrapped up and it was pleasant weather for walking. And with a
week or so with little rain, there was little flooding although river
levels were still high.
The first train took us to Reading, where most of the track seemed
still to be missing and the Bank Holiday engineering works were still in
full swing, but there were a couple of platforms open on the far side of
the station and trains were running through (unlike on the previous day)
and our train to Oxford was only around 15 minutes late. Fortunately we
had planned with this in mind, rather than take the later train which
the journey planner had suggested, which we heard as we waited for ours,
had been cancelled, and we arrived in Oxford in good time for the bus
which would take us to Hinton Waldrist. It was a small bus, and
there were few passengers, for the last five miles or so just the threee
of us and the driver, and on the lane taking us up to the church it
squeezed past a parked tractor with only a few millimeters to spare.
We walked down the lane to Duxford. Supposedly a 'genuine ford' across
the old stream of the Thames, it would have taken a very foolhardy
traveller to attempt the deep and fast-flowing stream today. The path
beside the river had fallen into the water in a few places and we had to
make detours, and I managed to slip into a bramble patch and get a few
scractches, but eventually we joined the Thames path at the bridge
across the old river to Shifford lock and made our way along the cut and
over the river.
We'd walked around 8km - and only met one other walker coming in the
opposite direction - when we came to Tadpole Bridge and were just in
time to have lunch at the pub there. Its the kind of pub that fancies
itself as a restuarant, usually bad news, but the only game for miles,
and I was hungry after the walking. But the usual rule that the longer
the menu description the higher the price and the worse the food applied
- or perhaps it was the chef's day off. At least my plate (I'd have
called it fish and chips) was decently filling, while the vegetarian
option chosen by my companions probably worked out at about 10p per
calorie. Give me pub food rather than cuisine minceur any day. But at
least the local beer was excellent, the service was prompt and we were
soon on our way again.
More river, more trees, more pillboxes - along this part of the Thames
was GHQ Line Red, built in 1940 to defend Birmingham and the Midlands
should the Germans have invaded, though I don't think they would
seriously have impeded their advance - but not a lot else. Radcot Bridge
is perhaps 5km away as the crow flies, but if you follow every wind of
the river (and mostly we and the path did) the distance probably
doubles. There is another pub at Radcot, but we were a little late to
pause there, and continued on another 4 or 5km to Kelmscott.
The manor there is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from April to
October, but it was a Tuesday - it was due to open for the first time
this year the following day. Unfortunately we didn't have time to
return. But the village pub was open, and it was time for another pint
of local brew for me, before we walked up the lane to St George's
Church, where a simple memorial in the churchyard marks the grave of
William Morris. Despite the temperature it was pleasant to sit for a few
minutes in the sun there and eat a sandwich or two.
The detour in the village added a little over a kilometer to our route,
and there was another three or four to go before we reached our
destination for the day, Buscot Manor. With various detours we'd
probably walked fifteen or sixteen miles and I was feeling pretty tired.
We sat and read for a bit in front of a wood fire and then I went to
soak in a hot bath to ease some of my aches and pains.
Nuclear Fool's Day - Scrap Trident
Aldermaston, Berkshire. Mon 1 Apr 2013
Protesters listen to speeches at the Tadley Gate
of the UK's nuclear bomb factory
Thousands protested at the UK's extensive Aldermaston nuclear bomb
factory, with groups at each gate calling for an end to the UK's
illegal and immoral nuclear weapons, and for Trident to be scrapped
and not replaced, saving well over £100 billion.
The Easter Monday protest by CND took place on April Fool's Day and
aimed to tell the government to 'stop fooling with nuclear weapons'
and that the people were not fooled by the wholly specious arguments
still being made for a UK 'independent' nuclear deterrent. As some of
the speakers stated, whatever it had once been meant to deter against no
longer exists, and the growing stockpile of nuclear weapons only
increases the risks of them getting into the wrong hands, and our
so-called 'independent' nuclear capability could only ever be used with
Speakers also stressed the many useful things that could be done with
the billions of pounds that is currently being spent on developments on
the Aldermaston site, as well as the over £100 billions cost of
replacing Trident. Although theoretically the decision on Trident has
been postponed until 2016, the current expansion programme in our
nuclear capability suggests that the decision has in fact already been
By the start of the protest at noon there were groups of between 50 and
several hundred at each of half a dozen gates around the over 5 miles of
the site perimeter, with others walking around the path around the site,
attaching messages and banners to its tall security fence. Some had
brought flowers to fix to the fence or planted daffodils in front of it.
Gates had been allocated to different groups from around the country,
and there was also a women's gate and a faith gate, with Christians,
Buddhists and others. Police were standing behind the gates, with a few
mixing with the protesters, and others driving around the roads by the
A small lorry and a couple of cars took a group of speakers around the
gates. Among those I heard were CND Vice-Chairs Jeremy Corbyn
MP and Bruce Kent, CND General Secretary Kate Hudson,
Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett and South East Green MEP Keith
Taylor, Stop the War's Chris Nineham and CND founding
member Pat Arrowsmith and another veteran Walter Wolfgang,
as well as US activist Linda Pentz Gunter, the founder of 'Beyond
Nuclear'. One of the women taking part in the monthly peace camp
protests continuing at Aldermaston also spake and I was sorry to have
missed 107 year old Hetty Bower, who I'd spoken to last month.
At the 'Faith Gate' there was a short 'Easter Resurrection Hope'
service in which an 'Alleluia' which had been
symbolically placed in a coffin at the Ministry of Defence in London on
Shrove Tuesday at the beginning of Lent was lifted out and held aloft,
with a call for 'a new heaven and a new earth' and the hope
that 'light and love might overcome the shadow of destruction in
this place.' This was followed by some Buddhist prayers, and some
statements from other faith groups about peace.
Across the road were stalls serving tea and coffee, and all around the
protesters were picnicking. Many had brought musical instruments to play
and also to make a loud noise around the site as the finale of the
event, in which others joined banging pots and pans, whistling and
shouting. It was in many ways as intended an inspirational event, with
banners, placards, songs and messages reflecting the creativity of many
of those involved in the peace movement.
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