Category Archives: Uncategorized

Stroud Green Party announce candidate for the 2015 General Election

Stroud Greens
On the back of polling putting the Green Party on 11% of the vote in Stroud the local party have announced their ‘party parliamentary candidate’ as Chris Jockel.

You can read more about the announcement here.

More information on #GE2015 in Stroud: 

  • UKIP’s PPC is Caroline Stephens. You can read what I think of her here (summary: she holds no grasp on basic science).
  • Labour’s PPC is former MP David Drew. You can read why I won’t be voting for him here (summary: I still have no answer if or why he thinks it’s OK to discriminate against LGBT people).
  • The Conservative’s PPC is standing MP Neil Carmichael. You can read everything that I’ve written on him here (highlights include him thinking its cool for the body who are meant to be looking after our health to invest in tobacco).
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Back from the Philipines, British aid worker reflects on Typhoon Haiyan

Robert Slinn, a great friend and an aid worker who has recently returned from the Philippines, writes about how he is feeling in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.

Rob
Back in July I returned from one of the best work placements I have had – in the land full of smiles, the Philippines. Or at least that is how I left it.

I have watched the recent devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan with extreme sadness. I have spent the last few days glued to my computer and phone in constant communication with friends and colleagues. In some cases, people are safe and well. In other areas, I know the very best case scenario is that my friends are alive but homeless.

Despite this, I know that my fears and concerns are nothing compared to those who have direct relatives and loved ones unaccounted for.

I’ve been organising aid efforts with local Filipinos in my home city of Winchester, and I have been particularly moved at how they have been coping with the situation. Agnes is one of many local Filipino nurses. She is very anxious about her relatives back in the Philippines. Her mother-in-law is living in the Visayas region, the area which was worst hit:

“Our family has been directly affected. We have not been in contact for 5 days. We are just hoping and praying that she is safe and alive”.

Agnes, the Filipino residents of Winchester, and I have spent some time thinking of what we can do to help. We are running some fundraising events this weekend and will also collect clothing, toiletries and non-perishable goods which will be sent to effected communities. It feels good to try to do something positive for the people we care for far away.

However, I am aware that despite being an excellent city, not everyone lives near Winchester! That is why I am making an appeal to you directly, through Hynd’s Blog. We are fundraising for Shelterbox, a charity that provides temporary accommodation and support to people after natural disasters.

I met some Shelterbox workers whilst living in the Philippines. They regularly do a great job in providing shelter and support to people affected by the landslides, earthquakes and typhoons that occur in the Philippines. This temporary accommodation will be extremely useful to the hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced as a result of Typhoon Haiyan.

Shelterbox workers will be extremely busy in the coming weeks and months and will need our support.

If you would like to help then please visit http://www.justgiving.com/robert-slinn2. Any donation is very much welcome, even a single pound, dollar or euro would be a great help!

Thanks for any help you can give and for taking the time to read this.

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Things are getting better for Lib Dems in the Eastleigh by-election

John O'FarrellAfter the Conservative candidate for the Eastleigh by-election was caught copying and pasting from Wikipedia to illustrate her knowledge of the local area, it looks as though the Labour party have handed the Lib Dems another election gift.

With much fanfare the Labour party have announced John O’Farrell to be their candidate in for the Eastleigh by-election.

Within hours a quote from John’s own book, ‘Things Can Only Get Better’, has emerged where he tells his brother “to go for it” when asked if he should vote Lib Dem tactically to defeat the Tories.

It looks as though things are getting better for the Lib Dems in Eastleigh.

Hat tip to Mark Pack  for the quote.

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When Will the Israeli Army Stop Using Tear-Gas as a Weapon?

This article was first published 13th January 2013 in the International Business Times

Palestinian in protest at Israel's security wall on the West BankThe sun shone through the vines and caught on the face of Abu Walid. He moved closer to his 17-year-old son Waseam, who in turn stared into the near distance. The courtyard where we were sitting was suffused with the smell of sweet tea.  An awkward silence filled the seconds as my question hung in the air.  

I had asked Abu Walid to describe the moments after a metal tear-gas canister had struck his son on the head. He paused as the memories collected. Finally, he looked up from his tea and said:

“At first I didn’t think it was serious, just some blood on his head…The man who works with the ambulance told me we had to go straight through the checkpoint…The soldiers also knew it was serious because when we come they open the checkpoint for us. They telephoned ahead to the hospital because they knew every minute counted.”

His son Waseam now sits beside him after returning from Jordan where he had an emergency life saving operation. By all accounts he is lucky to be alive.

Boys from the village differ on what they say happened on the day Waseam was shot.  The one aspect everyone agrees on was that the tear-gas canister was fired directly at the crowd by an Israeli soldier. When fired directly at a crowd, as opposed to being fired at an angle into the sky, tear-gas ceases to be a crowd dispersal technique and becomes a weapon. This violates the Israeli military’s own regulations on the use of tear-gas.  

Sadly, Waseam is not the only person to be struck by a canister either in his West Bank village of Kafr Qaddum, or across the occupied Palestinian territories. Every week that I monitored the demonstration in his village, I witnessed the Israeli military violate their own standards by firing tear-gas canisters directly at the crowds. On a number of occasions people were taken to hospital after being struck by these metal canisters.

The use of tear-gas in this way can have deadly consequences.

A year ago, Mustafa Tamimi died after being struck by a tear-gas canister fired only a few metres from him. At the time, Tamimi’s death was met with international outrage.

The Israeli military described his death as an “exceptional incident”. My experiences as a human rights monitor at weekly demonstrations across the West Bank indicate that this is not the case.

Indeed, the British Member of Parliament for Bath Don Foster supported this view, saying, “It would appear that the military regularly violates its own regulations [regarding the use of tear-gas] at Palestinian demonstrations.”

Equally, the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem has been “warning officials that security forces [have been firing] …tear-gas canisters directly at persons during demonstrations” for “several years”.

Two days after Tamimi’s death, the Military Police Investigations Unit (MPIU) opened an investigation into his death. A year later, there has been no public comment as to why the investigation has not come to any conclusion.

Noa Tal, of B’Tselem noted that “an inquiry lasting a period of nearly one year cannot be considered reasonable”.

While B’Tselem rightly highlights the legal repercussions of this drawn out process and the de facto impunity that results from it, the family and friends of Mustafa Tamimi have not received the closure that they need to be able to move on knowing justice has been served.

Indeed, these problems mean that Palestinians like Waseam and thousands of others are still putting their lives on the line every time they take to the streets.

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Message to Amnesty International UK activists from Ciarnan Helferty, Chair of AIUK

Amnesty International is an organisation that is close to my heart. They have been going through a rocky patch of late. As such I thought I would share with you the Chair of Amnesty International UK’s message to activists in light of their first ‘Extraordinary General Meeting‘ in nearly 30 years. 
 
I understand that some activists/members do not feel that this reflects the whole story – As such, I would happily accept a guest post from any disgruntled activist. 
 
For everyone else…
 
14 January 2013 
Dear Colleagues,
 
On Saturday January 12th, AIUK held its first Extraordinary General Meeting in more than 30 years to discuss the issue of our increased contribution to the international movement. We also discussed the proposed restructuring and the issue of redundancies at AIUK; part of the cost savings programme we initiated to provide this increase in funding to the global movement and ensure the medium-term financial stability for the organisation. 
 
Resolutions 2 and 4, which sought to halt increases in the assessment, were not passed and, therefore, the international movement’s vision, as expressed at the 2011 ICM, remains intact. This is the vision of Amnesty International as a powerful organisation adapting to a changing world by shifting significant resources to the global South and East, with greatly increased impact in our work for the rights of all people. That these two resolutions did not pass means that AIUK can now confirm that we will play our full and agreed part in that.   
 
Resolution 5, which called for the redundancy process to be withdrawn, was defeated. Resolution 6, which directed AIUK not to implement “any material reorganisation without the consent of the company in general meeting”, was carried.  
 
Resolution 6 also requires AIUK to prepare and implement as soon as reasonably practical a budget that conforms to the direction set out in the resolutions. The Board has therefore asked the senior management team to prepare a budget that meets our international obligations and provides options for consideration on our approach to the issue of redundancies in the context of the outcome of Saturday’s meeting. 
 
This will be undertaken as a matter of urgency and considered by the Board at the earliest possible opportunity. The next meeting of the Board is scheduled for the 2nd February and I am sorry that until then we cannot draw to a close the period of uncertainty for staff. 
 
The Board met immediately after the EGM and reflected upon the meeting. It was extraordinary in many ways, not least for the passion with which heartfelt views were expressed and for the commitment to Amnesty’s work that lay behind the contributions from members, more than 500 of whom attended.  
 
I welcome the fact that we will be able to meet our financial commitments to the international movement; the vision and decisions of the 2011 ICM regarding our commitment to the global south remains intact. I welcome too the part played by our democracy in reaching this point and recognise the absolutely legitimate desire of members, expressed at the EGM, to be more involved in discussions about the role of AIUK.  The Board will be setting up a task group to discuss this ahead of April’s AGM and will be inviting the proposers of the EGM resolutions and others to join. I’m sure we will not all agree with the various EGM results but, our democratic process having played its part, we need to focus our energy on our essential work in pursuit of human rights change. We also need to reflect on how we work together to find common ground and resolve the substantial challenges we face to make this a reality. We have lots of work to do – as a Board and as a Section – in the coming days, weeks and months.  
 
I am very grateful to all those who took the time to contribute to the discussions leading up to, and at the EGM itself. It’s been challenging for us as a section and tough decisions remain ahead of us. However, it is your passion and commitment that makes Amnesty the successful organisation that it is and I am confident that we will come through these challenging times stronger still.  
 
Best wishes 

Ciarnan Helferty 
Chair

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Israeli imprisoned for refusing military service

This article was originally published on ‘Liberal Conspiracy‘. 

Earlier this week, 19 year old Israeli Natan Blanc was sentenced to a fourth term in prison after refusing to sign up to military service.

Blanc has been given an additional 14 days in prison for refusing to join the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).  He will serve his sentence in military prison No. 6 near Atlit.

The Israeli peace group New Profile has called for the “the immediate and unconditional release from prison of Natan Blanc”.

Hannah Brock from the UK charity ‘War Resisters International’ also condemned the decision saying,

“His conscientious objection, like that of many others in Israel and around the world, highlights what he calls the ‘aggressive militarism’ in society. This is the fourth time Natan has been imprisoned for the same ‘offence’. Repeated imprisonment is a violation of international legal standards”

Indeed, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in Opinion 24/2003 on Israel came to the conclusion that the repeated imprisonment of conscientious objectors in Israel is arbitrary. The right to conscientious objection to military service is enshrined in the ICCPR.

Most Jewish Israelis are conscripted at the age of 18 – although the position of ultra-orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs in the military has long been a point of political tension in Israel.

When Blanc first refused military service he explained his decision saying:

“After four years full of terror, without a political process [towards peace negotiations], and without quiet in Gaza and Sderot, it is clear that the Netanyahu Government, like that of his predecessor Olmert, is not interested in finding a solution to the existing situation, but rather in preserving it…we, as citizens and human beings, have a moral duty to refuse to participate in this cynical game”.

Blanc’s full statement can be read in both Hebrew and English here.

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The UK has turned its back on victims of war crimes

This article was written for Social Justice First.

White phosphorous used by the Israeli military at a UN school in Gaza. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP

“We saw streets and alleyways littered with evidence of the use of white phosphorus, including still-burning wedges and the remnants of the shells and canisters fired by the Israeli army” Chris Cobb-Smith, a British weapons expert who visited Gaza.

“Commanders ordered their subordinates to shoot civilians and ‘hors de combat’ fighters, and to torture and mistreat detainees. Orders were often enforced at gunpoint and anyone hesitating to comply risked arrest or summary execution” UN report on war crimes in Syria.

These quotes are from two wars and describe two different accusations of war crimes.  Britain’s response to these atrocities should deeply worry us all.Last month Cameron all but offered Assad a safe passage out of Syria. Rightly there was outrage. Amnesty International commented that, “Instead of talking about immunity deals for President Assad, David Cameron should be supporting efforts to ensure that he faces justice, ideally at the International Criminal Court at The Hague”. They rightly then drew attention to the mass indiscriminate bombings that Assad had overseen – actions that constitute a war crime.

The arrogance that Cameron showed on that occasion was alarming. He believed that his idea of getting Assad out of the country at any cost was somehow superior to that of International Law. That he could bring peace where established human rights mechanisms couldn’t.

This was the first time I had heard this government leave its staunch “we support international law” line that it hides its inactions behind. Sadly it looks as though it wasn’t a one off. The Foreign Office on Monday night implied that the UK is prepared to back a Palestinian statehood bid at the UN if, and only if, Abbas pledges not to pursue Israel for the war crimes it has committed.

Can anyone tell me, since when has the UK started to hand out impunity for war crimes in return for entering into peace talks?

I can’t believe that these two incidents are not connected and I fear that they are signals for what is to come from the FCO.

The consequences of Cameron’s words

The UK is saying is that Abbas should not pursue justice for the victims of Israel’s 2009 “indiscriminate and reckless” use of white phosphorus. In contrast, Human Rights Watch said that senior leaders should be held to account as civilians “needlessly suffered and died”.

Equally, it is saying that Abbas should not follow up the evidence that suggests Israel used indiscriminate attacks in the latest up-surge of fighting in Gaza.

The UK has asked Abbas not to apply for membership of either the International Criminal Court(ICC) or the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The first being a body that aims to offer accountability by bringing to justice those who have committed the worse crimes – namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The latter is a pre-judicial body that aims to settle legal disputes between states based on international law.

The Foreign Secretary needs to be asked why it is he thinks Palestine should be a state – but should not have access to these bodies!

Clearly the UK is acting in this way for some reason – perhaps trying to compromise with a hard-line US position for example. Or perhaps they are hoping to avoid Israel annexing settlements in the West Bank. But, this is a price too far.

Once you start to compromise on these internationally agreed standards – standards that Israel has signed up to – then you stand at the top of a very slippery slope!

What we need is for the UK to be making clear and bold statements calling for all those accused of war crimes to be held to account through the established bodies – regardless of who the perpetrators are!

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Republicans must realise that money can’t buy you love

Obama is back in the White House and the Republicans have received a kicking across the country in the Senate elections. So where did it all go so wrong for the Republicans?

Some things in political campaigning are priceless. Having your opponent call nearly half of the electorate ‘scroungers’ who will ‘never vote’ for you, to give just one example. Some things though cost, and cost a lot.  The latest set of US elections are predicted to cost as much as $6 billion. However much either party pumped into the campaign though, did anything cost the Republicans as much as their various candidate’s gaffs?

From Obama’s campaign perspective, for the last few months the Republicans have just kept giving.

Remember Todd Akin’s ‘legitimate rape’ comments? When defending his absolutist view on abortion (he would ban the morning after pill) he said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”. Wow.

Instead of running a country mile from Akin’s outrageous comments, the Republican Party pumped $700,000 into his campaign efforts. And then they wonder how they alienated the female vote!

Surprise surprise, the electorate backed the Democrat, Claire McCaskill who has been described in the Huffington Post as “a true champion for women and families”.

It doesn’t stop here though. Remember, the ‘Teahadist’ and Senate candidate Richard Mourdock comments on rape? He said if a woman becomes pregnant after being raped then this is “something God intended”. Again, just wow.

Of course, it isn’t just rape. Republicans have found a number of subjects to blunder over.

Connie Mack IV (an actual name), the Republican candidate in Florida was accused of road rage and a string of violent brawls. Not exactly vote winners. One wonders what he wrote on the section of the nomination form that asks “do you have anything in your past that could be politically damaging”.

Then there was a senate candidate’s attack on medical provision (an issue which Romney and Ryan also fell down on).

This is all before we have even started with the Presidential candidate himself – Romney, far from blameless but also the inevitable scapegoat for the Republicans.

During the primaries (a fiercely contested contest) Romney had little choice but to appeal to the religious right, not only on religious issues but on social policy and foreign affairs. On polarizing issues such as gay marriage, Romney left no doubt as to where he, and any future administration that he would head, stood on these issues that so titillate the republican right.

A rejection by the middle ground was inevitable.

No republican strategist though has yet offer an answer as to how the Republicans expect the result to be any different in 2016? If they insist that all their candidates publicly fight it out to see who can appear the biggest reactionary bigot, before then having to head out to try and appeal to Middle America?

Sooner or later the Republicans are going to have to do some soul searching and face up to the vested interests in their party and tackle the toxicity of the Tea Party brand.

The Tea Party movement holds within it some wealthy donors – David Koch for example, purportedly the fourth richest man in America! Sooner or later though the Republicans will realise that there are some things more important than money. Money can’t buy you love, let alone the centre ground in American politics.

Last nights Senate and Presidential results illustrated this all too clearly as they failed to make progress in many key swing states.

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The death of Mustafa Tamimi highlights a lack of accountability in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The death of Mustafa Tamimi is another example of people suffering from the misuse of tear gas in Israel and The Occupied Palestinian Territories. We have witnessed a series of deaths and injuries in recent years from tear gas canisters being fired directly at crowds. Tristan Anderson of Oakland California is suffering from brain damage, paralysis and seizures after he was hit in the head by a canister at a 2009 demonstration.

The Israeli army has described Mr Tamimi’s death as an ‘exceptional incident’; sadly we know this to not be the case. IDF regulations prohibit firing tear gas directly at people. It would appear though that the military regularly violates its own regulations at Palestinian demonstrations in the West Bank. In April 2009, Bassem Abu-Rahmah, from the village of Bil’in, was killed by a tear gas canister that struck him in the chest.  B’Tselem has been warning officials about security forces’ fire tear-gas canisters directly at persons during demonstrations for some time now.

The IDF commanders need to leave in soldiers mind no doubt that they will face disciplinary action if they are caught firing directly at people with tear gas canisters. At the moment the lack of accountability is only entrenching this problem. Soldiers, and ultimately if orders are given, their commanders must face consequences for their actions.

Even the Daily Mail thinks it is a problem – enough said.

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The ‘Best Man’s Speech’ at Alice and Peter Parsons’ wedding

All 16 minutes in its full glory

The happy couple:

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Government policy is still leaving Gay, Lesbian and Bi-sexual asylum seekers exposed to torture, rape and even death.

This article was originally published in OUT Bristol Issue 8

“When I was really young I had an affair with a friend. Because he was a chief’s son, the whole thing went up and the police started looking for me, the chief said he’s going to kill me. My pictures were everywhere, I was wanted. I went underground but a group of guys grabbed me. They took me to an old house, tie me on the chair. They want me to admit I’m gay. If you say you’re gay they can kill you. You just have to keep lying, no I’m not, no I’m not, no I’m not, because if you say you are they can kill you. I was beaten, I was tortured. It was terrible, it was really horrible. Eventually they left me for dead because I was really beaten, with wires and stuff – four or five guys beating one person. I was really scared…I was in hiding; I don’t come out during the day ever. I only come out at night”.Adebayo, a Nigerian asylum-seeker. Quote taken from Stonewell’s report “No going Back: Lesbian and Gay people in the Asylum system”.

In July 2010 a Supreme Court ruling was meant to stop a shameful practice.  For years, the UK Government had forcibly returned asylum seekers who claimed they were fleeing on grounds of their sexuality back to countries such as Iran, Cameroon and Uganda. This has resulted in countless deaths, acts of torture, rape and harassment that could otherwise have been prevented.

For years asylum seekers were interrogated and asked to “prove their sexuality”, asked why they “chose to be homosexual” when they knew it was illegal in their country and even asked why they were not “discreet” about it to avoid harassment. There is case after case of people being returned home to face the unimaginable because of their sexuality. For years the UK Borders Agency enforced this policy and the UK Government watched it happen.

In 2010 however a landmark Supreme Court ruling promised to change all this. At the time the Home Secretary Theresa May said, “I do not believe it is acceptable to send people home and expect them to hide their sexuality to avoid persecution. From today asylum decisions will be considered under the new rules and the judgment gives an immediate legal basis for us to reframe our guidance for assessing claims based on sexuality, taking into account relevant country guidance and the merits of each individual case”.

Less than one year on, Ministers have admitted they have not collected any data on the issue and do not know whether or not this ruling has been implemented. In other words we do not know whether the “institutionalised homophobia” in the UK Borders Agency (as described by the Stonewall report) has been tackled.

The ruling at the time said that relevant cases should be flagged and recorded.  There seems to be no evidence that this has happened. Due to this failure, we have no idea if individuals are being granted refugee status on grounds of their sexuality or whether they are still being forcibly deported.

Disturbingly there are shreds of evidence to suggest that things have not moved on. Just last month the Guardian reported the case of a Lesbian from Uganda where Home Office lawyers argued that there was no persecution there and that she could return home as long as she lived discreetly.

To be able to claim any credibility on this issue the Government needs to instruct the UK borders Agency to start recording these cases as standard practice.

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The Hazard Archive

The Hazard Archive

I recently discovered an intriguing new band called The Hazard Archive. Intriguing both for their name and their music.

They are a poetic, melancholy band mining the obscure depths of modern folk. They remind me a bit of Mazzy Star, or a sort of darker version of Fleet Foxes.  Some of the chiming guitars recall the Doves, even. 

I’ve been puzzling over the band name though. When I mentioned it to a friend, he said he thought it might refer to a case from years ago of a man who burnt an archive of love letters in his back garden which spread and burnt down his house in the process!

Anyway, check them out at www.thehazardarchive.com  or http://soundcloud.com/the-hazard-archive

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Happy Valentine’s Day – gay marriage and religious civil partnerships to be allowed!

It has been reported by the Sunday Times, and repeated across bloggersphere that the Liberal Democrat equality minister Lynne Featherstone will announce a proposal to end the ban on same-sex marriage at the same time as the Government announces the timetable for civil partnerships to be held in religious buildings.

If these rumours are confirmed (and the home office currently has refused to deny them) on Thursday, then this will be a fantastic step forward towards equality in this country.  This issue has been at the centre of Peter Tatchells “equal love campaign” which has seen heterosexual couples applying for civil partnerships and homosexual couples applying for marriage. 

This is an incredibly important step for men and women of faith who wish to join their homosexual relationships in marriage.  This is as much a step forward for religious equality as it is for sexual equality. 

Commenting on the story Peter Tatchell said, “Gay civil partnerships are not good enough. They are not equality. In a democratic society, everyone should be equal before the law. All couples – gay and heterosexual – should be able to get married in a civil ceremony in a register office.”

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that Lynne is not forced to back down from this position between now and Thursday.  We can help by publically backing these plans.

Happy Valentine’s day!

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Some food for thought for 2011

Here are some interesting facts and figures for you to mull over.

  • 31% of the world’s population is Christian compared to 21% who are Muslim.
  • 8% of the world’s population speak Hindustani as their first language, the same figure as those who speak English as their first language.
  • 80% of the world’s population are adults, 14% are over 65.
  • 1% of the world’s population own a computer.
  • 25% of the word’s population do not have an adequate food supply and shelter.
  • 17% of the world’s population is undernourished while 15% is overweight.
  • 17% of the world’s population do not have access to clean drinking water.

I read these facts today and I was left wondering what impact they will have on the world in the coming year!

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Our schools are under threat, but this is not new

The government’s education policies are coming under increasing scrutiny as their repercussions filter through.  I am yet to hear a teacher talk positively about Mr Gove and his plans to “liberate” the school system.  Many people agree with the Tories that schools need to be set free from red tape, but many people worry that his agenda will push schools into the hands of private business with no educational expertise.  Just recently the news broke that Murdoch et al down at News International were planning on funding an academy.  Murdoch has long been infiltrating universities; but to see him make such a clear bid for a school is deeply worrying.  This is not a new phenomenon though; our schools and our teenagers have had their education sold to big business for a number of years. 

Throughout the UK subsidised vending machines have been popping up left, right and centre.  It is a long-standing marketing technique for big brands to establish themselves in youth markets.  Walker’s crisps have been long pushing their “books for schools” campaign where pupils and parents are encouraged to buy packets, collect tokens and redeem books for their local school.  Is it any surprise that Walkers crisps came top in “ChildWise’s” poll for child brand recognition?  70% of nine to eleven year olds citied them first when asked to name a crisps brand.  This figure rose to 93% with 15 and 16 year olds.  Walkers are not the only ones in this form of marketing.  We can see supermarkets, soft drinks and other house-hold names beginning to market in schools.

In 2001 Coca-Cola launched its “school plus” scheme.  In exchange for funding, the schools would distribute booklets of vouchers for Coca-Cola’s products.  JazzyMedia gives away books and diaries sponsored by BT, Adidas, Pepsi and other corporate behemoths.  These diaries and books end up in 55% of all UK schools.  To parents the idea of having the cartoon “purple Ronnie” on school books (I think one of school planners might have had this…It think) seems unproblematic.  Yet there is a growing phenomena of brands (especially junk food) creeping into our schools.  We can see the effect it has had on US education (where soft drink manufactures regularly forge multi-million dollar deals to ensure their products are available through schools).  It is a widely acknowledged tactic to try and get products to become the “talk of the play ground” by getting popular teenagers to wear, eat or drink the latest products.

It is not just our state schools that are being invaded by big business.  University institutions have been getting into bed with big business for years.  Cambridge at one point for example, had their chair of chemical engineering employed by Shell, whilst their professorship in Organic Chemistry and Petroleum Science was employed by BP,  staff in thermodynamics from ICI, their chair of Molecular Parasitology from Glaxo, a chair of Molecular science from Unilever, and a chair of Financial services from PWC.  Rolls-Royce, Microsoft and Zeneca have all had labs inside Cambridge.  Cambridge’s position is not unique, up and down the country, big business is slotting its employees into the highest sections of British Universities. 

Is this a worrying phenomenon? Is brand exposure inherently bad? Although brand exposure is wide-spread and deep-rooted throughout our education system, is it something to be worried about? I would argue that young people, especially teenagers are battered by designer images that blunt their abilities to grow as free thinking creative individuals.  The Branding of children creates an uniformed ideal of children that is often unsuitable for that age group.  I would also argue that the private infiltration into our education system is also indicative of a much wider problem.  The corporation is seizing power previously invested in the state and using this power to shape our lives to its own benefits.  In education this materialises in a trend towards marketing and youth product placement.  In Health this materialises in unnecessary and over stated insurance schemes.  Hospitals, roads and prisons are being developed to suit the corporate need not the public good.  

I think that we have a responsibility to protect our children from the over consuming society that we have developed into.  I fear that the current government’s approach to education is letting us slip further down this slope. Education is a right, but also a privilege.  It is something that should not be taken for granted and certainly not cheapened by being made into a commodity. 

Information taken from Alissa Quart’s book “Branded” and Monbiot’s “Captive State”.

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When you are above the law you can get away with murder

Wanted men

Nick Clegg today stated that he believes the war in Iraq was an “illegal invasion”.  In other words, there were not sufficient legal grounds to justify the invasion.  Wow!  Anyone and everyone has been saying this for years.  Does anyone though, seriously expect Blair to be held to account for his actions in the lead up to the war? Can you imagine in 5 years time, Blair playing gin rummy with Al-Bashir in the Hague awaiting trial.  Let’s be honest with ourselves…this isn’t going to happen!

Despite the concept of universal jurisdiction, we can see that there are some characters, primarily due to their political positioning, who are just “untouchable”.  Another example, can you seriously imagine, Johann Hari’s or Dawkins requests for the Pope to be arrested for “crimes against humanity” ever happening? If not, why not? The Pope is visiting British soil this September (meaning the same principle of jurisdiction as applied against Pinochet could stand).  Pope Benedict is a man who wrote (in 1985) that the “good of the church” should be considered against defrocking of an American priest who was known to abusing children.  We have documented evidence of this (a signed, dated letter). The Pope is not the head of a UN recognised State (although this rule should be questioned).  A man, has been shown to be covering up child rape, he should face trial! When it can be shown that this was happening on a large-scale, it becomes a crime against humanity.  So why is the Pope not going to face trial?

George Monbiot, argues that the very image of the Pope awaiting trial would begin to highlight the concept of “equality before the law”.  Should our “leaders” be governed by a different set of values and laws to what we face? As radical as the very concept of calling for Blair and Benedict’s arrest is, it would at least on first thought, appear to hold up to scrutiny.  Should we be on the streets demanding the arrest warrant for the Pope?

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Why are journal articles kept under an economic lock?

Just a quick moan.  Why are academic journal articles so incredibly expensive to gain access to on-line? It actively discourages informed debates, keeping the knowledge within academia (most universities will have “an institutional log in”).  This means, that in reality no one outside of academia will ever read a journal (unless you’re an expert in one field and have a subscription).

Academics, if you are really studying and researching for the love of your subject, make all your work publicly available! There is little prestige in only having a handful of people read your work. Or make your work available in journals that are open sourced!

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Drunk leafleting

Running the leaflet gauntlet in Stroud town centre

I have recently embarked out onto the town centre of Stroud on a Saturday night to do some leafleting for the Green Party.  The idea being, I would catch groups of people in-between bars and clubs and ask them if they would like a leaflet or a chat.  Opinion is divided about whether this is a good idea or just asking to be bottled.  I would appreciate your feedback!

The response I got in town was mixed.  About half the people I approached told me to “please go away for I am out on a jolly tonight” (or words to that effect).  The other half however, was genuinely really pleased that I had bothered and was really receptive.  The sorts of people who are out on a Saturday night are not the same ones who get our leaflets during the day in Stroud (go into Stroud on a Saturday morning and it’s a bit like running a gauntlet with all the leafleters).  Some people had never considered voting before, while others had very strong views on certain issues.  Overwhelmingly however people were supportive of what the Greens stood for.  Those who stopped to talk had real passion about political issues.

I left the town centre with a sense of optimism; if these opinions I encountered could be translated into votes, the chance for progressive politics to grow in this country is massive.  The Warehouse proudly claims it gets over 1000 people through its doors every Saturday, if half of these guys voted on their beliefs the Greens would instantly be 500 votes better off.  If half of Stroud town centre (1000-2000) all voted, the Greens would be well on their way to seriously challenging this seat.  Thus, this is a rallying cry…if you are the sort of person who goes out on a Saturday night into Stroud, please vote, and please vote for what you believe in.

If thousands of people in Stroud were this receptive, just think of the possibility for Gloucester, Cheltenham or even Bristol?

As a final thought, just think how funny it would be to have a few old boy Tories on the Streets of Stroud trying “to win over the young”.  Now that would be a sight worth seeing!

If you fancy coming along this Saturday just join the facebook group and get in touch

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This month I will be mostly eating…

Mmmm...nice! A Beetroot and yogurt soup. Photo thanks to avlxyz (flickr)

“I have been worried sick about what vegetables to buy down the shops”, I hear you cry.  Do not worry, hear is this month’s what to eat and what not to eat guide for in season food! Things are getting tricky as the winter chills hang around, especially in terms of fruit.  There is however, still a wide range of in-season vegetables for you to get your mitts on.

Try eating:

Beetroot, Brussels Sprouts, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celeriac, Kale, Leeks, Onions, PARSNIPS, potatoes, rocket, Swede and turnips!

For your fruit salad:

Things are getting tough this time of year. I am struggling to find any in season fruit! Sorry.  Can anyone help? Oranges from Spain (is that cheating?)

Beetroot:

This month I want all of you to try Beetroot.  It is the bane of many a box scheme buyer’s life as most people associate it with the pickled mess you get in jars.  Let me assure you it does not have to be like that!

When you but it, look for unwrinkled skins, that feel nice and firm.  Again, the age old trick of buying smaller root vegetables applies here; the bigger they are the more likely they are to be “woody”.  If you get really small beetroots they can be really nice just grated and eaten raw.  For larger ones try boiling in their skins or baking in foil (for quite a long time depending on their size). 

Did you know that you can also eat the leaves off Beetroot? Treat them a bit like you would spinach (for example, sauté in hot heavily seasoned oil for 1-2 minutes until just limp as a side dish!). 

Bon appétit!

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