Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Rolling In The Cess Pit by Les May

IN an article on the NV blog a couple of weeks ago I referred to something I wrote at the end of June 2020. I commented that having read some of the abusive posts directed at Priyamvada Gopal, who had posted a ‘tweet’ which said “I’ll say it again. White Lives Don’t Matter. As white lives”, I thought you would meet nicer turds in a slurry pit.
A long article by Brendan O’Neill on the Spiked Online website graphically describes the vile abuse directed at author J. K. Rowling. From the context it appears that it came via her Twitter account, which of course means the brave authors could remain anonymous.
My own experience of anonymous communications is somewhat limited. I had one letter from an unknown ‘Christian’ in 1970 after I wrote to the local paper saying that I did not think that the Muslim children at the school I worked at should be made to attend what was in effect a Christian oriented morning assembly. I had another in 2010 after I had the temerity to point out in the same paper that Canada Geese were in a nearby park because their staple diet was grass which they got from the lawns and not the bread which they got to the visitors. Short of blocking my letter box there was nothing I could do to prevent them being delivered.
One of O’Neill’s concerns is the almost complete absence of people willing to publicly defend J. K. Rowling. He also took a few well aimed potshots at ‘Cancel Culture’ and ‘Identity Politics’. But it seemed to me that he was somewhat missing the point. If Rowling was distressed at what was being said about her on Twitter, the remedy was in her own hands, literally. All she had to do was switch off her smartphone or if that was too radical, delete the ‘app’.
Rowling, the footballers, Priyamvada Gopal and Sajid Javid are all in their own way ‘commodities’ where image matters. Keeping their names before the public is how they can both relish their present fame and make sure there they are putting something in the metaphorical bank for the future. Rowling may yet write another book; the footballers may think of taking a leaf out of the book of Lionel Messi and launch a premium fashion brand; judging by the Twitter post which led to the abuse Gopal evidently likes to be seen as ‘controversial’, and Sajid Javid is a politician who wants to be seen as ‘just like us’. He has learned the hard way that that there’s always someone who will make a grab the moral high ground if you dare use a word they don’t like.
It’s no use waiting for the government to solve the problems raised by social media by banning so called ‘hate speech’. If you find it unpleasant just stop it being delivered to your smartphone, because it will only hurt you if you let it and no one is forcing you to read it. This isn’t a ‘freedom of speech’ matter. None of the individuals I have used as examples would have the slightest difficulty in getting their voices heard in the UK media, something that cannot be said of the people who resort to vulgar abuse. I doubt the NV editors would turn down a piece on ‘transphilia’ by Ms Rowling.
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Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Schools must fight to defend freedom of expression

Editor's note: Much has been writteen about the Batley Grammar School teachers who have been victimized for allegedly showing cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad, from a copy of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Below is one account from The Critic website by Ella Whelan which challenges the current fashion for 'cancel culture'. When we tackled it on the NV Blog at the time of the troubles at which an Islamic Charity put one of the teacher's names into the public domain a Unite branch of Bury binmen and Tameside Trade Union Council attempted to move an emergency motion at the then online forthcoming National Conference of trade union councils in June this year. It was not accepted onto the agenda, as the TUCJCC were concerned that the Tameside Trades Council had not they claimed 'consulted with NEU', the union with the lead industrial interest.
Meanwhile, a member of the TUC-JCC also assures us:
'Kevin Courtney [the National Education Union General Secretary who gave his advice to get the Tameside TUC motion calling for solidarity for the victimized teachers rejected] is one of the best General Secretaries, ... and that they are doing he best they can in a difficult situation.'
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Ella Whelan on the 30 March, 2021 on THE CRITIC WEBSITE wrote the following essay:
The cowardice of senior staff at Batley Grammar should be a lesson to all educationalists about the importance of defending open discussion
One of my favourite cheesy films is Mona Lisa Smile. Julia Roberts plays an enlightened, feminist-y teacher pushing the boundaries of a socially conservative, private women’s college in Massachusetts. The moral of the story is that Roberts’ art classes and an emphasis on open debate inspire her students to realise that the world is bigger and more exciting than the four walls of their dormitories. In being shocked by the things their teacher tells them, the students gain the confidence to form their own opinions about what their futures will look like.
The events of last week show just how far cancel culture has expanded.
While Roberts’ fictional teacher gives up her job in favour of travelling Europe when the college attempts to restrict what she can and can’t teach, real-life scenarios rarely have Hollywood endings. A teacher at Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire has been forced to go into hiding after protesters at the school demanded he be sacked and prosecuted. His crime? Showing his class cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad, allegedly from a copy of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Accurate information about what actually happened is still unclear, but it is alleged that students were shown a caricature with “Islamophobic tropes” during a discussion about blasphemy in a religion class. In fact, the only information that has found its way out has been the teacher’s name — a frightening prospect given the fact that the French teacher Samuel Party was beheaded in broad daylight just five months ago for showing students similar images.
The events of last week [at Batlet Grammar School] show just how far cancel culture has expanded, from online spats and campus politics to the world of everyday life. Without taking a breath, the headteacher of Batley Grammar, Gary Kibble, suspended the teacher and issued an “unequivocal” apology to the crowd of angry parents at the school gates. A police officer even had to read the school’s statement to the crowd, who had caused such a fuss that the school was forced to close. But Kibble’s grovelling sacrifice of his staff member hasn’t dented the protesters’ demands — some have told the press that “he should never teach again”, supported by a local Imam who demanded that “serious action [be] taken”.
It seems the only people at the school who have some courage to stand up for freedom of expression are the suspended teacher’s own cohort. “Against all odds, students wish to make a statement and reinstate him back as a teacher in Batley Grammar School due to his pure intentions”, says a petition, allegedly written by Batley Grammar’s pupils. It’s incredibly poignant that the adults both working in the school building and shouting from the school gates have been shown up by the students who know and love their teacher. The petition has since hit over 66,000 signatures from people across the country. “This is our repayment to that RS Teacher”, it says, “and if he sees this, we have a simple message for him. We thank you for everything you’ve done for us.”
Parents should not be able to bring a school to a halt because they don’t like the content of a class Where are this teacher’s colleagues? Where are the teacher’s unions? Where are the authorities, who are supposed to protect citizens from intimidation and threats? The fact that the only people supporting the teacher’s right to “teach” kids difficult things like blasphemy, offence and free speech are the kids themselves tells you a lot about the state of education today. The fact that angry parents are calling for the teacher’s head (this time metaphorically, unlike the tragic murder of Paty) shows how flimsy the boundaries between school and home life have become. Parents should not be able to bring a school to a halt because they don’t like the content of a class. Those claiming this is a principled stance against islamophobia are being wilfully ignorant to the context in which the images were shown. Anyone who has sat through a whiney PTA meeting knows how irritating complaining parents can be — these protests are no different. But instead of teachers rolling their eyes, the protesters have been emboldened by the school caving in to their censorious demands
.
The cowardice of senior staff at Batley Grammar should be a lesson to all educationalists about the importance of defending open discussion. Schools should defend the idea that children are not there to have their own prejudices or beliefs cosseted, but to be educated — an experience that can often be difficult, challenging and sometimes upsetting. Many of us will remember a time when the assumptions we had about life were challenged by listening to views and opinions that were new to us. Part of a comprehensive religious education is to learn about the fact that the world is full of people with different beliefs (and none). If a student can’t handle the idea that there are some people who will mock and ridicule beliefs that they hold dear, sometimes in overtly offensive ways, there’s no hope of them being able to survive the world outside the school gates.
A precautionary, patronising approach to education has long been the view of the British education system.
There is no merit in upsetting students for the sake of it — especially when it comes to personal feelings like religious beliefs. But, according to the students’ petition, this is not what the teacher was doing — “we have watched our RS teacher defend the integrity of all religions within classes”, it says, “and we do not and will not believe he is racist in any way”. Instead of balancing the worth of the lesson against the complaints made by some students, the school seems to have jumped to the conclusion that all students are too soft to handle controversial subjects in any context. This safety-first attitude should come as a surprise to no one. A precautionary, patronising approach to education has long been the view of the British education system — from bans on red pens in marking and calls to cancel exams to combat “stress”, students are no longer expected to be pushed outside of their comfort zone.
What the crowd at Batley Grammar’s gates and the cowards in the headteacher’s office have in common is their inability to act like adults. We are all supposed to be children now — constantly in need of protection from hurt feelings or differing views, screaming for attention when things happen that we don’t like. The students don’t want to be infantilised in this way — their petition makes clear that they want to
“educate the future generations”
by not shying away from tricky subjects or uncomfortable views. What these kids understand (that their parents and teachers seem to have forgotten) is that education is about taking risks. Here’s hoping Batley Grammar sees sense and issues an apology to the one person who really deserves it.
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Sunday, 25 July 2021

Corruption in Local Government? by Les May

ASKED recently on the BBC News Channel programme ‘Dateline London’ what she thought too little attention was paid to, Bronwen Maddox, director of the Institute for Government, replied ‘Corruption in Local Government’.
I have previously described the difficulties I have had in getting answers from my local council to Freedom of Information (FOI) questions regarding the ‘declarable interests’ of Councillor Faisal Rana. My conclusion was that Rochdale Borough Council is ‘Institutionally Corrupt’.
It is surely extraordinary that only after the intervention of my local MP, Chris Clarkson, have I been able to get a response to questions I first submitted in April.
Corruption isn’t only about money in brown envelopes and influencing planning decisions it’s also about a commitment to openness by council officers in the dealings with the public.
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Wednesday, 21 July 2021

The Curious Case of Kate Sharpley Library ________ by Christopher Draper_____________

“KATE SHARPLEY LIBRARY (KSL)” is an institution “dedicated to researching and restoring the history of the anarchist movement”. Its name commemorates a young woman who “under the influence of anarchist propaganda” in 1917 reacted to the carnage of WWI by flinging her family’s war medals back into the face of Queen Mary - a defiant gesture that earned her a severe beating from the boys in blue. In his book “I Couldn’t Paint Golden Angels”, Albert Meltzer recorded extensive details of the incident after meeting Kate shortly before her death in 1978. This dramatic protest was cited by Nigel McCrery in his book recording professional footballers killed in WWI, which linked it to the death on the Somme of Kate’s brother, William. It’s an extraordinary tale but is it true?
THE FOOTBALLER’s TALE
IN April 1912 Sgt William Sharpley of the Essex Regiment made a trial appearance for the Leicester Fosse reserves football team playing against Worksop Town. After winning this match 4-0 he was picked to play left back, for Leicester’s first team the following month, in a second division game against Leeds City. Although Leicester won that game 4-1 William made no further appearances for the club and returned to his unit to serve as a regular soldier. With the outbreak of war he was immediately sent with his regiment to the Western Front where “he served with honour” and was decorated before being killed on 1st July, 1916.
This story has recently been told by Nigel McCrery in his book “The Final Season” (Random House) where the author goes on to reveal that this early casualty of the Somme offensive was none other than the brother of impassioned anarchist protester, Kate Sharpley.
ALBERTS’s ACCOUNT
KATE SHARPLEY LIBRARY acknowledges that, “One of our frequently asked questions is who was Kate Sharpley?” In response KSL publishes two overlapping accounts, both written by Albert Meltzer. The first, originally penned in 1978 was printed in “KSL Bulletin 6, Sept 1996” while the second appears in Meltzer’s “I Couldn’t Paint Golden Angels” - both accounts are freely available online. Meltzer, and hence KSL, makes several very specific claims, including:
·
“Sixty-five years ago Queen Mary was handing out medals in Greenwich, most of them for fallen heroes being presented to their womenfolk.”
·
“One 22-year old girl, said by the local press to be under the influence of anarchist propaganda having collected medals for her dead father, brother and boyfriend then threw them in the Queen’s face”
·
“The Queen’s face was scratched and so was that of her attendant ladies.”
·
“The girl was Kate Sharpley.”
CURIOUS and CURIOUSER
MELTZER’s first reference to “sixty-five years ago”, made in 1978, dates Sharpley’s medal protest to 1913. Was it not remarkably prescient of Queen Mary to present commemorative medals for a war and its consequent casualties yet to occur? Is it not curious that such careless inattention to detail was not spotted by either Meltzer or KATE SHARPLEY LIBRARY corrected over the four decades since publication?
Is it not more curious still that despite extensive research there appears to be no report or record of this most dramatic incident in any contemporary newspaper or other documentary archive? No reference to this incident of any kind has been recorded that does not derive from Meltzer’s entirely unreferenced account. Meltzer specifically states that “the local press” claimed she acted under anarchist influence yet there appears to be no reference of any sort to “Kate Sharpley” in the local press for this or any political action. Even if the authorities conspired to effect total censorship of the mainstream press it would certainly have been reported in anarchist, socialist or pacifist papers. As a fearless activist surely Kate would have afterwards informed the radical press of her action and the police’s violent reaction.
Confirmation?
MELTZER’s account might appear to derive a degree of substantiation from McCrery’s description of the death of Kate Sharpley’s brother on the Somme were it not for the fact that Sgt William Sharpley (Reg. No. 9214) of the 2nd Battalion Essex Regiment had no sister called Kate, Kath, Catherine or any other variant. Like Mr Meltzer, who he references and relies upon, McCrery doesn’t seem to have done his homework by insisting on primary evidence. Although I emailed my detailed criticism of this invalid claim to a familial relationship to McCrery’s agent on 7th April 2021, requesting evidence for his assertion, answer was there none.
Dodgy Dogma
I DON'T DOUBT Meltzer met Kate Sharpley sometime in the late 1970’s and she recollected fragmentary tales of a half-remembered anarchist past. There’s usually a germ of truth in every story and it’s not clear who was the more guilty of over egging this particular pudding but Meltzer’s subsequent account is certainly more akin to anecdote than history. Through extensive research into primary evidence I believe I have identified the Kate Sharpley that Meltzer met and whose life he purports to describe but I’ve learned from experience that KSL prefers convenient myth to inconvenient truth.
It’s ironic that Meltzer’s autobiography claims “I Couldn’t Paint Golden Angels” for much of what now passes for “anarchist history” is little more than gilding applied to plaster saints. In claiming to chronicle anarchist history “FREEDOM" “Lib Com” and “KSL” all enforce ideological censorship with an absence of self-critical rigour.
ON 15th May 2006 “Lib Com” published Meltzer’s account on its own website. Eleven years later it finally dawned on editor “Steven” that the account lacked evidence if not credibility. On 15th May 2017 “Steven” belatedly, and unsuccessfully, asked “Does anyone know any dates in her life, either when she was born, when she died, or the date of the medal-throwing incident?”
In conventional journalism, which is after all the first draft of history, it’s generally considered good practice to test the evidence before publishing the story but at Lib Com it’s apparently an afterthought and at KSL a revisionist tendency to be defiantly resisted.
Anarchist History or Jesuitical Dogma?
SO dear reader, KSL - “dedicated to researching and restoring the history of the anarchist movement” has had 43 years to come up with evidence to substantiate this tale it began promulgating in 1978. I challenge KSL and its acolytes to now stand this story up with independent evidence or otherwise accept their founding myth is as false and dishonourable as that of the Catholic Church.
Christopher Draper (May 2021)
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Sunday, 18 July 2021

Only Nice People On Social Media! by Les May

WHEN Boris Johnson said that he was going to ensure that social media companies will be compelled to remove ‘racist’ material from their sites under threat of losing 10% of the revenue stream generated in the UK, I have no doubt that he meant it, at least when he said it. But as the saying goes ‘the devil is in the detail’.
As was pointed out on this blog only recently, racial discrimination involves an individual, a group or a state treating individuals or groups of individuals differently based upon their race, colour or origin. It should be noted that this includes both preferential and prejudicial treatment, and requires some identifiable action to be taken by the individual, group or state. By contrast ‘racism’ is an ideological stance adopted by some people and people holding this view may or may not involve themselves in any action which constitutes racial discrimination. In other words it is an idea which some people have in their heads. Johnson’s problem is going to be whether he wants to be a politician who tries to legislate against ideas.
Here’s a little test. You come across the following seven separate posts on social media; at what point does the needle on your ‘outrage meter’ move into the red zone and you start to demand that that the offending post be removed.
‘You took that penalty like you were wearing carpet slippers! You played like a big girl! Where your boot laces tied together you big queer? An open goal and you missed, are you blind or something? I’ve seen cripples play better! Lazy bastards like you shouldn’t be in the team! Get back where you belong you white/black/brown bastard!’
All of these are things that someone might have said after watching eleven millionaires chasing a ball. None of them involve any action against another individual or group. The perpetrator’s only action was to type something, press a button and hey presto! Any individual reading any one of these might take exception to it on the grounds that they find it abusive. If they want to exaggerate they will call it ‘hate speech’.
And that’s another problem Johnson will face. Will a law tailored to satisfy the demands of those who feel outraged by recent events open the flood gates for other groups to expect that a law be enacted to satisfy their specific demands?
On the NV blog a year ago, 29 June 2020, I said that having read some of the abusive posts directed at Priyamvada Gopal, who had posted a ‘tweet’ which said “I’ll say it again. White Lives Don’t Matter. As white lives”, I thought you would meet nicer turds in a slurry pit. But being unpleasant to other people isn’t a crime, nor should it be made one.
The assumption that those who seek legislation make is that if only we can pass the right laws we can make people be nice to each other or at least stop them being unpleasant. Does anyone really believe that?
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Friday, 16 July 2021

'RACISM' LACKS A DEFINITION, Let's Thank GOD! by Brian Bamford

IN 1959, I went to the branch meeting of my local Rochdale ETU branch one Friday night to try to raise the issue of the boycott of South African goods with the elctricians there. I was a 19-year-old apprentice at the time and the TUC, the Labour Party and the Liberal Party had all declared their backing for this international campaign which had been called for in November 1959 by the Movement for Colonial Freedom.
As a young man I was surprised first by the lack of interest of the ETU branch officers, and remember the ETU was then regarded as a militant communist trade union, who despite my protests didn't see any point in my request that the branch should discuss the international boycott campaign. They were too busy collecting the members subscription as they were queuing-up to pay before going out on the razzle as it was Friday night. As I tried to interest a West Indian electrician the chairman, who had become tired of my appeals for support, asked the assembled members if anyone was anxious to discuss the topic of the boycott of South African goods? The silence was deafening! Even the one black man present didn't show any interest.
It took many more years of international struggle before South Africa obtained anything approaching freedom and aparthied was removed.
Yet according to Kader Asmal: ‘If any event galvanised the Boycott Movement into action it was Chief Albert Luthuli’s plea for sanctions”¦ Luthuli’s statement reads: ‘I appeal to all governments throughout the world, to people everywhere, to all organisations and institutions in every land and at every level to act now to impose such sanctions on South Africa that will bring about the vital necessary change and avert what can become the greatest African tragedy of our time.’
Apathy & Pleading Petitions
I was reminded of this disinterested apathy of these 1950's north of England trade unionists when I was recently urged to sign a petition to support the three footballers who according to the media had been racially abused for missing a penalty in last Sunday's Euro Final.
The protest petition reads:
'Three black football players have received a storm of racist abuse after England lost the final. We can't let such hatred go unchallenged -- so let's meet it with a deafening public cry of support from across the country. Add your name to the public letter below, and when we reach 100,000 names, Avaaz will publish in a major national newspaper.'
The petition pleads the case further:
'Within minutes of England losing the match, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook were flooded with cruel, racist messages towards the players. Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel have since condemned the abuse -- but only after they'd originally undermined anti-racism gestures by the team earlier in the competition.'
'Let's show these three black players, and the whole country, that racism has no place here. That as ordinary citizens, we will not sit by as a small minority of people spew their hatred and ignorance. But more than that, let's show the children of this country what it truly means to be English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh and BRITISH in the 21st century.'
Worthy words indeed!
'Racism' is not defined! Racial discrimination is!
My understanding is that the United Nations (UN) does not define 'racism' as such; however, it does define 'racial discrimination'. According to the 1965 UN International Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, '...the term "racial discrimination" shall mean any distintion, exclusion, restriction, or prefernce base on race, colour, desent, or national or ethnic origin that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundimental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.'[
'Racism' is clearly not defined by the UN because it is ambiguous and is often used as an ideological swear word by the liberal left in much the same way as the word 'Facist' was used in the 1930s as a term of abuse. Despite the fact that one such petition had more than a million signatures on it according to Woman's Hour today I doubt that the culture will change and I suspect that many people will find this kind od virtue signaling turns their stomachs. Even if Gareth Southgate OBE is ever such a nice bloke.
As they say 'Everything Changes, Everything Stays the Same'.
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Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Bill Christopher: A radical born on Bastille Day

From South Africa to West Yorkshire

Brian Bamford peruses the politics of the 1960s, 

as he talks to Joan Christopher about her husband, Bill

THE early 1960s was a time of great expectations in radical left-wing politics.  There had just been the Campaign to Boycott South African Goods, called by the Anti-Apartheid Movement.  The boycott attracted widespread support from students, trade unions and the Labour, Liberal and the then Communist Party.  The Anti-Apartheid Movement had begun as the Boycott Movement, set up in 1959 to persuade shoppers to boycott apartheid goods.

The Campaign to Boycott South African Goods had been preceded by another single issue social movement the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which was founded in 1957 in the wake of widespread fear of nuclear conflict and the effects of nuclear tests.  In the early 1950s, Britain had become the third atomic power, after the USA and the USSR had recently tested an H-bomb.

 Joan and Bill Christopher on holiday in France
Politically this was the atmosphere of the early 1960s, especially in London where Bill and Joan Christopher were to be activist members of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) for most of their adult lives.  However, there were unofficial strikes and industrial struggles going on at that time, and in 1960 Bill had left the I.L.P. to join the Worker's Party [1] formed by Brian Behan [2], when Brian and others had broken away from the Trotskyist Socialist Labour League in 1960.  The Worker’s Party later merged with the Syndicalist Worker’s Federation (SWF).

Later together with the Freedom Press anarcho-syndicalist carpenter Peter Turner, Bill Christopher was to become joint-secretary of the Industrial Sub-committee of Committee of 100 [3], that was a time of great conflict and activity during the national campaign against nuclear weapons and the Bomb.  It was to be out of this Committee of 100 London Industrial Sub-Committee that the industrially based National Rank & File Movement (N.R&F.M)[4], an organisation of militant trade unionists and shop-floor syndicalists, developed and was founded at a conference in London in January 1961.

An article in Freedom newspaper covering this National Rank & File founding conference, of which Bill Christopher was an active member, announced:

'This week-end there is to be held in London the first Conference of the newly-formed Rank and File Movement.  Much work has been put into the preparation of this conference by liaison committees; discussion meetings have been going on in London, resolutions and amendments have been drawn up, and it may well be that this event will be a significant one for militants among the industrial workers at least.

(FREEDOM: January 28, 1961)


Joan Christopher speaking to N.V. in Todmorden, West Yorkshire

  Introduction to the interview by Brian Bamford

These were the days before Spies for Peace and before my own trip to Spain in February 1963 on behalf of the young libertarians of F.I.J.L in France, before the arrest of Stuart Christie in Madrid in 1964, well before the student sit-ins at the L.S.E. in 1967 and before the French events in 1968 and the 'Donovan Report' into the trade unions .  Back then I and my then compañera, Joan Matthews, who were staying with the S.W.F. national secretary Ken Hawkes at his home on Parliament Hill, attended this London national rank and file conference of perhaps 200 workers and activists; we were both employed at that time at the same engineering firm in the North West. At this conference we were sat in front of the Freedom Press anarchists Colin Ward, Philip Sanson and his compañera.  It was the first time that I’d met people like Bill Christopher, Brian Behan, Ken Weller of Solidarity, and Peter Turner of Freedom Press, with whom I became a close friend for the rest of his life.  

In a pamphlet authored by Bill Christopher entitled 'SMASH THE WAGE FREEZE!' (1960s), and published by the Syndicalist Worker's Federation, Bill wrote:

'It is obvious that today only a Labour Government would dare to implement a wage-freeze policy and arm it with heavy penalties for non-implementation...  The opening attack on workers' wages and conditions came with George Brown's Joint Statement of Intent on Productivity, Prices and Incomes.... shop stewards wishing to improve wages and / or conditions in their plant, are subject to the penalties of the Act.  The officials of their respective unions can also be penalised.'
 
The intention of the then Labour government here would be to discourage unofficial strikes, that is strikes not supported and financed by the trade unions: in the 1950s and early 1960s unofficial strikes represented about 90% of all the industrial action taking place.  Historically shop stewards were intended to be simply 'union card checkers', in the 1896 rule book of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, that later became A.U.E.W., this was stated to be the sole role of the steward.  Yet, after the Second World War the shop steward had become a key figure on the shop-floor.  Bill Christopher during his involvement with the S.W.F. and in his writings as an industrial editor on Freedom, was anxious to extend the responsibilities of the shop stewards as was the rest of us involved in the National Rank & File Movement.

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Political Journey - wartime South Africa to West Yorkshire



Bill Christopher in the North of England

Bill Christopher was born on Bastille Day in July 1924, and died in January 1993.

Brian Bamford's Joan Christopher interview on Bill Christopher:
Began April 2015 and was finally completed in July 2017.

Brian Bamford: When did you and Bill first move up to Todmorden?

Joan Christopher: We came here in July 1986. I was born an Essex girl in a town called Woodford in 1928, but my family moved to Walthamstow from around 1930.

Brian:  How did you find living up here?

Joan:  We didn't know how things were going to work out. Of course, we had been up to visit Aileen and Bob (daughter and son in-law) several times. But I soon learned to drive after coming up and I began to go to college to do A-level art. Some dear friends of ours Eric and Joan Preston (in the Independent Labour Party) lived in Leeds

Brian:  Has Todmorden changed much since you came?

Joan:  There has not been a great deal of change. There is more of a hint of tourism – a bit like (nearby) Hebden Bridge, and it's more gentrified now. We use to meet people who had not been out of Todmorden all their lives.

Brian:  How does life up here compare with London?

Joan:  Bill use to reminisce about about London. He didn't seem to settle down as much as me. For me I’ve liked living up here and I find ‘Tod.’ people very friendly – I like somewhere a bit rural and countryfied.

Brian:  How did you meet Bill?

Joan:  I use to work with Bill's sister, Jean; sewing. I started working when I was 14-years-old at a dress-making factory cutting, finishing and re-drawing from the pattern book on Hudson Street, Walthamstow for about 4 months.   I then worked at Cannels Ltd dress-making. It was through his sister Jean that I met Bill and we first went out at Xmas 1942. Jean use to say Bill only liked me because I liked playing monopoly.  He had asked me to go to the pictures a week before he went into the RAF.   Bill was a volunteer and didn’t wait to be called-up, nor was he influenced by his mates at the time into his decision to join up.   At that time he was at first doing air-training in St. Johns Wood.
Later he was based in South Africa training to be a navigator, and didn't come home until 1944. After that he was in the Army in India until 1947.
While he was in India during the troubles there; that is during the Bombay riots, I remember him saying that he shot into the air,.rather risk hitting anyone.
He didn't talk much about South Africa! It was the war that influenced his later political views as well as his later (post war) experience in India (in the Army).  When he went to the war he had been a Christian and as a boy he wanted to be a missionary in the Church of England. My Mum too had been a strong believer before she met my Dad.
After he left the Army, Bill (Christopher) went back to working in the print (industry) in the 1940s up to the 1970s.  He was an Imperial Father of Chapel (Works Convenor) at the Daily Mail in NATSOPA and Sogat. After he left school he worked flat-bed printing on 'The Queen' magazine, which was a glossy.  He was doing White Chapel preparation though his grandfather had been a copy-taker.   He left the Daily Mail, went on to Teacher’s Training College, and later began teaching in the early 1970s.  He taught at Leyton County High School for Boys.  Bill was a member of the NUT (National Union of Teachers).   Bill came into teaching as a mature student and ended up teaching sociology as part of his teacher’s training certificate.

Brian:  Why did you both come up North?

Joan:   In July 1985, he decided to retire, because Bill didn't have a degree and he assumed that he wouldn't get a job in a 6th form College or High School. He was 61 (Bill was born in July 1924). We already had a daughter living in Cornholme in Todmorden. Our daughter, Aileen, has lived in the North longer than down in London. She originally lived in Cornholme, Todmorden, but is now over the border in Burnley.
When we got here Bill studied for a Master's degree (entitled) 'The women's role in the factories in World War II'. An oral history involving (research) doing interviews with workers (who had) worked in the mills and factories in the Tod(morden) area (in the War). It was a dissertation for his MA (Master's Degree), and I typed it up for him on a Word. Processor. He started studying for a Phd shortly before he died.

Brian:  What do you reckon of today's politicians?

Joan:  You can see that I am a Labour supporter (a Labour Party poster is in the window). Both me and Bill voted Labour in the 1945 and 1951 general elections: although I haven't got a lot of faith in any of them. Because they make promises and then can't deliver. I look on Labour as being the lesser evil. I always vote, because people died to get the vote. The trouble is that big business has more control, although you do get the odd MP who does a good job.

Brian:  But you were both in the Independent Labour Party (ILP)?


Joan:  (The I.L.P. merged with the Labour Party in 1975) when the I.L.P. stopped being the Independent Labour Party and became the 'Independent Labour Publications'.
Bob Galliers (Bill's son-in-law) intervene here to say that Bill had always been a syndicalist or anarcho-syndicalist, and that they (Bill and Joan) had been raided by the police in 1963 after the revelations in the Spies for Peace documents.
Joan Christopher then continued:
In the mid-1960s Bill wrote and edited industrial and labour reports for the Freedom newspaper with Peter Turner, who was a carpenter in the building trade.
I wrote for Freedom (the anarchist weekly newspaper) a piece about that raid after the 'Spies for Peace' [5] incident at Aldermaston at Easter in 1964. (At that time this 'subversive' document was being widely circulated by anarchists, independent socialists and pacifists and) at a Conference of the I.L.P. in Yorkshire [probably Scarborough] everyone were asked to reproduce the 'Spies for Peace' leaflet.  (At that time) Eric Preston, Bill’s friend in the I.L.P., was being followed by the police as he moved 'Spies for Peace' leaflets and other materials from Leeds to London, but when he his copies in the Left Luggage, the police moved in and took them. The organisation 'Solidarity'* (nothing to do with the current Solidarity Federation) started the 'Spies for Peace' campaign. (Bob then intervened to say the journalist Natasha Walter published a book on the 'Spies for Peace'): (her father was, Nicolas Walter the well-known anarchist writer, and the only member of the 'Spies for Peace' to go public on this matter).
We also duplicated a rank and file newsletter the ‘Seaman’s Voice’ in Cumberland Road, and as I recall one of the seamen ended-up stapling his own finger, but he was still enough of a gentleman to avoid swearing in front of a woman, although I’m sure that he wanted to.
Bill unsuccessfully fought the Walthamstow parliamentary seat (at different times) for both the ILP and CND.. He was a member of the (anarcho-syndicalist) Syndicalist Worker's Federation (SWF) and produced both 'Worker's Voice' (then the paper of the Worker's Party) and 'World Labour News'. Earlier in 1959, we were both involved in the 'Worker's Party'* with Brian Behan* (the brother of the play-write Brendan Behan and musician Dominic), but Brian was very mercurial.
Bill rejoined the I.L.P. around 1980ish, and the 'Friends of the ILP' are now part of the Labour Party.

Brian:  What did you do in the Miner’s Strike?

Joan:  We supported the miners! 
We had an ‘I.L.P. Miner’s Support Group’ through which we channelled our support. We were awarded a Miner’s Lamp for our efforts. I’ve still got that lamp here at the bottom of the stairs.

Brian:   I believe that William Morris was born in Walthamstow?

Joan.:  Yes, in the 1930s the house were he was born was turned into a clinic, and when I was a kid, I attended the clinic for treatment in about 1935.

Brian:  Many of those anarchists and syndicalists in London in the 1960s, I remember as having a wide variety of other interests as well as politics. Over the years from the 1960s I often stayed in London on the Peabody Estate behind Chelsea Town Hall on Kings Road with Bill’s old mate, the joiner Peter Turner and his then wife Gladys, and we often would talk about you and Bill.  Peter loved cinema, the arts and above all music.  As I recall from talking to Peter, he Bill and Jack Stevenson were all very enthusiastic about Jazz – I think Jack and Bill had disputes over their tastes in Jazz?

Joan:  Yes, we all had a passion for Jazz!  But at first I was into the Classics, and Bill was into Jazz.  When we were living on Cumberland Road we made it open-plan, and, on Jack Stevenson’s advice bought a Pye Black Box.  We liked Bruck, Mendelssohn, Mahler, and Oscar Peterson.  But it was through Jack Stevenson we came to know the track by Jack Teagarden ‘Tribute to Sydney Bechet’ (Joan at this point started to hum the tune). ‘I want that played at my funeral’, she said.

Brian:  Did you know many other people at Freedom besides Pete Turner? People like Vernon Richards, Colin Ward and Philip Sanson?

Joan:    Indeed, we were close to quite a few people at Freedom Press, and would go over for lunch on the odd Sunday to Philip Sansom and his partner’s house. We knew Tom Cowan and his Italian wife Gabrella. He was in the building trade. We were also close to Ken Hawkes, a sports journalist on the Reynolds News and the anacho-syndicalist editor of World Labour News – the journal of the Syndicalist Worker’s Federation (SWF) in the 1960s. Brian Behan, the brother of the play-write Brendan Behan, was another good friend who we knew Brian was a bit eccentric, he lived in a pre-fab with his wife and use to wear bicycle clips, and we asked him about this he turned his pockets out and showed us the holes. The bike-clips were there to catch the coins in.  His wife later went into teaching.  Brian was a carpenter in the building trade who was blacklisted and ended-up at university. I’m still in touch with Dave Picket who took over the S.W.F., when Ken Hawkes, who lived on Parliament Hill in Hampstead, left to go to work for the BBC.


Brian:  Thank you for that Joan, and please express my thanks to Aileen and Bob for all their help in producing this short rendering of the life of Bill Christopher.
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[1] The Worker's Party was a breakaway from the Socialist Labour League in summer 1960.

[2] Brian Behan, the brother of the Irish play-write Brendan Behan, founded a short-lived 'Workers Party', which published Worker's Voice and was active in support of the Seaman's Strike.
In 1964, Behan wrote his first piece on his family life, With Breast Expanded. Forced to give up building work due to an arm injury, he moved to live on a boat in Shoreham-by-Sea and studied history and English at Sussex University. He then studied teaching, before in 1973 becoming a lecturer in media studies at the London College of Printing.[3] In 1972, he contested in a swearing match at the British Museum, to mark the republication of Robert Graves' Lars Porsena.[2]
[3] The Committee of 100 was set up after a difference in CND about the use of civil disobedience as a political weapon between Canon Collins and the philosopher Bertrand Russell,

[4] The National Rank & File Movement. Affiliates of SWF; the Worker’s Party; the ILP; Commonwealth; London Anarchists; Socialism Re-affirmed (publication Agitator - later Solidarity).
[5] The ‘Spies for Peace’ was a clandestine group of individuals including we now know the Freedom Press anarchist, Nicolas Walter, later admitted involvement: His Wikipeadia entry states: ‘Walter was a member of Spies for Peace, the only member to be publicly identified, only after his death. In March 1963, it broke into Regional Seat of Government No. 6
(RSG-6), copied documents relating to the Government's plans in the event of nuclear war and distributed 3,000 leaflets revealing their contents.’
In his book ‘Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow’ the historian David Goodway wrote:
The Spies for Peace were essentially this group (Solidarity), locating and entering the Regional Seat of Government (RSG) at Warren Pow, Berkshire, and circulating the pamphlet, Danger! Official Secret: RSG-6.
[6] ‘Solidarity' publication of the Socialism Re-affirmed Group edited by Christopher Pallis and Ken Weller, was originally entitled the 'The Agitator' until 1961.


Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Unite Sharon Graham's plan for a new workplace politics by Brian Bamford

THE UNITE ELECTION for GENERAL SECRETARY
Playing Politics or having control in the Workplace?
At the end of June the fringe website WORKERS' LIBERTY announced:
'Unite General Secretary candidate Sharon Graham’s proposals for “a Workers’ Politics” point in the wrong direction. In many respects they are a regression from Unite’s current political strategy.
'The wider output from Graham’s campaign says little about political struggles and largely disparages political trade unionism in favour of “returning to the workplace”. She has denounced rival left candidate Steve Turner and his new backer Howard Beckett as “the Westminster Brigade” (“the Westminster Brigade versus the Workplace”). In fact Graham lumps Turner and right-wing candidate Gerard Coyne together as the Westminster Brigade, as if Coyne rather than Turner winning would not matter!'
The website continues:
'Effective working-class politics does need to be rooted in strong workplace and community organisation and struggles, as opposed to just senior union officials hobnobbing with politicians or social media output; but Graham's stance is reactionary populist posturing.'
This small leftist body WORKERS' LIBERTY focuses here upon the spirit of syndicalism in Sharon Graham's strategy and calls it 'a regression from Unite’s current political strategy'.
They argue 'Graham’s campaign says little about political struggles and largely disparages political trade unionism in favour of “returning to the workplace” and that she 'has denounced rival left candidate Steve Turner and his new backer Howard Beckett as “the Westminster Brigade” (“the Westminster Brigade versus the Workplace”).'
In her own election address Sharon says: 'I am not supported by any clique of MP's. I don't have the machine of the current regime.'
THE HISTORICAL TRADITION of BRITISH SYNDICALISM
THE program set out clearly by Sharon Graham today has roots that go deep in the history of British, and indeed, European trade unionsm. It encompasses ideas that stretch back to the foundation of the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union in the 19th century and was popular before the First World War in 1912 when 'The Miners' Next Step' was formulated and articulated as a project for workplace syndicalism and workers' control.
The Guild Socialist and historian G.D.H. Cole has described how British trade unionists tend to return to militant workplace activity in periods when parliamentary politics fails. If Sharon Graham's message today is anything to go by we may well be entering one of those phases. As I read through the addresses of the candidates for the Unite General Secretary today there seems to be an air of disillusionment with party politics and politicians.
Of course, I'm not suggesting that Sharon Graham is cynically drawing upon a 'reactionary popularist posturing' as the hole-in-the-corner Marxists of the 'WORKERS' ALLIANCE' seem to be suggesting in their critique above. Reading her address it seems to me that she is drawing upon her own insider knowledge and experience to articulate a narative of what could be called modern workplace syndicalism. It is not surprising that the politicians are in bad odour right now. They seem to lack common decency and that goes for the Labour Party as well.
Blacklisting & LABOUR'S Defence of the Boss's Right to Vet
IT not surprising that I note that the Manchester UNITE EPIU Contracting Branch North West/1400 have nominated Sharon Graham. This Manchester branch spearheaded the campaign that led to the exposure of the Consulting Association blacklist in the British building industry in 2009. The reason that the Manchester electricians would be sceptical about professional politicians can be found in a letter sent in 2008 to Graham Brady, then a Conservative MP representing one of the blacklisted Manchester electricians; in this letter dated 30th, April 2008, the then Labour Minister for Employment Relations & Postal Affairs, Pat McFadden wrote:
'Employers often vet the people they hire. It is not the policy of the Government to make it unlawful for employers to undertake such necessary vetting in a systematic way, conferring with previous employers as required. However... the Government is aware that irresponsible vetting can lead to abuse...' Then he reassures Mr. Brady MP and his blacklisted constituwent by sternly declaring: 'The Government remains vigilant in this matter and my Department monitors the evidence that information about trade unionists is being misused to discourage employers from hiring them.'
In truth we now know for sure that blacklisting in the Britsh building trade flourished under Labour Goverments because a year later in 2009, the Consulting Assocation and its blacklist files compiled bt Ian Kerr were sucessfuly confiscated by Dave Clancy, the Infomation Commisiioner. It is with our current knowledge of politicians of all governments have a habit of looking the other way and allowing lives to be ruined by blacklist files. With her knowlege of the BESNA in construction and the leverage campaigns she is able to state: 'We can't rely on politicians and I won't be signing any blank cheques for any party [and] I will stop us becoming a branch of the Labour Party, by moving beyond factions and focusing on policies.'
It is this refreshing down to earth approach to the everyday reality that makes Sharon Graham the ideal candidate for those of us who are sick of the fashionable addicion to virtue signaling and delight in someone who has the spirit of everyday reality about her. The alternative candidates Gerald Coyne and Steve Turner both seem to have a flavour of the political factionalism of current mediocre politics.
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Human rights group has accuses Rochdale council of trying to 'criminalise poverty'

From The Manchester Evening News
A human rights group has accused Rochdale council of attempting to 'criminalise poverty' in a legal crackdown on beggars in the town centre.
Liberty, an independent campaign organisation, says the plan to extend a current Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), which expires on July 23, for a further three years potentially breaches the European Convention on Human Rights and could be challenged in the High Court.
It also says it is 'likely' the council's consultation process over the extension and variation of the current PSPO breaches the Anti- Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 which enabled local authorities to introduce such orders.
Liberty says: "It is unclear what an 'incident' is described as. Is it enough for someone sitting with a cup begging?"
It also accuses the council in its report of linking begging to anti-social behaviour.
The letter says: "(The report) says it provides an overview of 'ongoing problems within the town centre associated with anti-social behaviour that the current PSPO aims to tackle'.
"It is stated that there is CCTV of 159 'incidents' of street begging. Begging is not antisocial behaviour and should not be recorded as such."
Liberty claims there is no evidence in the report that there is a problem with begging in Rochdale by people who are not destitute.
It goes on: "This prohibition is therefore not based on evidence, it is not needed and must be removed.
"The wording 'No one at any time shall beg for money' amounts to a blanket ban on begging and is unreasonable."
The report says that in the public consultation in 2017 some members of the public felt that begging had a negative impact on the image of the town and that begging adversely affected business by putting people off coming into the town.
Liberty says: "It is grossly disproportionate to prohibit begging, which is relied upon as a lifeline by people suffering from poverty, in order to improve the aesthetic of Rochdale town centre.
"We note with great concern that the dispersal of people begging has substantially increased since the council’s (initial) PSPO was made.
"The council seems to be simply trying to cleanse its town centre of poverty."
And it adds: "Other councils have relied on, and published, data, witness statements, police reports, surveys, impact assessments, and many other sources of information to justify the need for a PSPO before setting out a proposed order and starting a consultation.
"If the council goes ahead with making this PSPO without sufficient evidence then it will be unlawful and vulnerable to challenge in the High Court."
Liberty also says: "The PSPO provisions (saying no-one at any time shall beg for money) also constitute a potential interference with Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights."
The letter concludes: "This proposed variation and extension of the Rochdale PSPO is potentially not only unlawful and unreasonable; it is also a disproportionate interference with basic rights and with people’s right to inherent human dignity. It adds nothing to the fight to alleviate poverty. We urge you to think again."
A Rochdale council spokesperson said: "The response from Liberty will be considered alongside all the other comments received during the consultation period.
"Recommendations are due to be presented to the council’s cabinet committee later this month before a decision is made."
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Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Violence or Intimidation! Oh Really? by Les May

IN March 2015 a committee of the House of Commons produced a document summarising our national constitution and some options for reform. A key paragraph reads; ‘The United Kingdom constitution is composed of the laws and rules that create the institutions of the state, regulate the relationships between those institutions, or regulate the relationship between the state and the individual. These laws and rules are not codified in a single written document’. Nationally we do not have a written constitution, but local councils do. Amongst other things these regulate the relationship between the council and the individual.
As I have explained previously it took three requests to the Chief Executive of Rochdale Council to get an answer to the question of why the entry in the Register of Interest for Faisal Rana was not available on the council website. The answer I did get was; ‘In relation to the register of interest for Cllr Faisal Rana. The entries not shown on the website are due to the items being considered as sensitive by the previous Monitoring Officer of the Council. Any requests for such information should be submitted via the freedom of information process.’
So what does the written constitution of Rochdale Borough Council have to say on this matter of items being ‘sensitive’? On page 13 it says:
15. Register of interests: Subject to paragraph 16 any disclosable pecuniary interests or personal interests notified to the Monitoring Officer will be included in the register of interests. A copy of the register will be available for public inspection and will be published on the authority’s website.
16. Sensitive interests: This paragraph applies where you consider that disclosure of the details of a disclosable pecuniary interest or a personal interest could lead to you, or a person connected with you, being subject to violence or intimidation, and the Monitoring Officer agrees. In these circumstances, if the interest is entered on the register, copies of the register that are made available for inspection and any published version of the register will exclude details of the interest, but may state that you have a disclosable pecuniary interest, the details of which are withheld under Section 32(2) of the Localism Act 2011.
Unless Faisal Rana told the previous Monitoring Officer David Wilcock that he would be subject to ‘violence or intimidation’ and the present Monitoring Officer has confirmed this with Faisal Rana, then both officers have acted outside the terms of the Rochdale Council constitution by improperly allowing this councillor’s disclosable interests to be classed as ‘sensitive’. In both cases Rochdale Council should hold a written note of any meeting between the councillor and the Monitoring Officer(s) at which this claim was made and accepted as true.
It is more than six weeks since I submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request asking if the present monitoring officer has concluded that the disclosable information which should appear in the register of member’s interests for Councillor Faisal Rana is ‘sensitive’, why this information is considered to be ‘sensitive’ and on what date the decision was made. I assume that this is because the present Monitoring Officer, ex Labour councillor Asif Ibrahim, does not wish this question to be answered.
Two Monitoring Officers have acted in a way which they are not permitted to do by the Rochdale Borough Council constitution and have done so without censure from the Chief Executive Steve Rumbelow. If he will not put his house in order perhaps it is time that the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government was asked to intervene.
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Monday, 5 July 2021

Institutional Corruption Revisited by Les May

THE willingness of Rochdale Council officers to turn a blind eye to Faisal Rana’s apparent failure to file a list of his beneficial interests within the required period after his election in 2018; the evasiveness of officers when I questioned this in the autumn of that year; the reported willingness of the then Monitoring Officer to allow the information to be classified as ‘sensitive’, meaning it would not be available on the council website; the apparent readiness of the present holder of the post to allow this to continue; the unwillingness to comply with a Freedom of Information (FoI) request and the fact that all these things have been allowed to happen without anyone being called to account, are all signs that Rochdale Council is Institutionally Corrupt.
But in all of this there is one great mystery and that’s why anyone would go to all this trouble to keep information about the full range of business interests of Faisal Rana away from all but the most persistent of enquirers. Why indeed?
It is difficult to see that the officers concerned had or have anything to gain from their acquiescence. Nor can it be said that Faisal Rana has gained anything from it other than a reputation in some circles for being considered, what for want of a better phrase I will call, ‘a bit dodgy’. Some people might have swallowed the story that he voted twice in the belief that election law allowed him to do so, but now...?
The only plausible explanation I can come up with relies upon the truth of those stories of ‘Two Votes’ reported ambition to become Rochdale’s next Labour MP.
Consider this; during a General Election campaign Labour is attacking their opponents record on housing and some inquisitive journalist takes a look at a Labour candidate’s business interests and discovers that s/he is a ‘rentier’ with a long list of residential properties in their portfolio. Can’t you just hear the cries of ‘hypocrite’ or worse? Would the national Labour Party really want to take the risk by allowing such a person to appear on its list of potential candidates? But if no one knows… ?
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Sunday, 4 July 2021

Rochdale Council: Corrupt Institution? by Les May

THERE are good reasons why it is a rule that all Councillors should file with the local body upon which they serve a list of their beneficial interests in a borough and that this should be publicly available as the Register of Members Interests. One of these is to ensure that council members do not vote on anything in which they have a pecuniary interest. Anyone trying to apply this simple test to Rochdale’s own Councillor Faisal ‘Two Votes’ Rana since his election in 2018 has faced an uphill struggle.
In April of this year I noticed that the entry for ‘Two Votes’ had been replaced with the words 'Not shown on website'.
So I wrote to Rochdale Chief Executive Steve Rumbelow as follows:
Dear Sir,
I refer to the Register of interests for Councillor Faisal Rana.
https://democracy.rochdale.gov.uk/mgDeclarationSubmission.aspx?UID=6271&HID=2563&FID=0&HPID=14660973
I note that Section 7 Securities: contains the words 'Not shown on website'.
Could you please clarify whether this conforms to what is commonly known as 'Best Practice' which is usually taken to mean a standard way of complying with legal or ethical requirements? I assume that in the interests of open government RMBC would normally wish to be seen as implementing 'Best Practice'.
If there is a reason for 'Best Practice' not being followed in this case could you please inform me of the reason?
N.B. the material at the above link was changed on 28 June 2021 as detailed below.
I did not get a reply so two further reminders were sent. The third of these elicited the following response:
In relation to the register of interest for Cllr Faisal Rana. The entries not shown on the website are due to the items being considered as sensitive by the previous Monitoring Officer of the Council. Any requests for such information should be submitted via the freedom of information process.
So on 23 May I wrote to Rochdale Chief Executive Steve Rumbelow as follows:
My understanding is that any request for information should be treated as a request for information governed by the FOI Act even if that term is not expressly used by the requestor. I request the following information which if necessary you should treat as Freedom of Information requests;
What information is held by RMBC in the register of members interests for Councillor Faisal Rana and on what date was each of these individual interests registered?
On what date did the previous monitoring officer conclude that the information in the register of members interests for Councillor Faisal Rana was ‘sensitive’ and should be withheld from the public unless a Freedom of Information request was made?
Has the present monitoring officer concluded that the information in the register members interests for Councillor Faisal Rana is ‘sensitive’ and should be withheld from the public unless a Freedom of Information request is made?
If the present monitoring officer has concluded that the information in the register of members interests for Councillor Faisal Rana is ‘sensitive’, why is this information considered to be ‘sensitive’ and on what date was the decision made?
I still require an answer to the second and third parts of my original query which relate to what is commonly called ‘best practice’.
Five weeks later I still had not received an answer to these questions so on Sunday 27 May I sent the following to Rochdale Chief Executive Steve Rumbelow and on 30 May followed this with a printed copy sent by Royal Mail:
Dear Mr Rumbelow,
I wrote to you on 21 April 2021 with regard to the entry in the Register of Interests for Councillor Faisal Rana. I did not receive a response from you and sent a reminder on 5 May 2021. This reminder did not elicit a response and on 20 May I sent a second reminder.
I received a partial response to this from a Michael Garraway but the original question about ‘Best Practice’ and the reason why it is not being followed in this case remains unanswered. Mr Garraway informed me that if I required any information about this councillor’s declarable interests I should submit this through the ‘Freedom of Information’ process.
On 23 May I submitted four further questions regarding this councillor’s declarable interests, and why and when the decision(s) had been taken not to allow these to appear on the Rochdale Council website.
To date I have not received a response to these and the previous two questions. When I raised similar queries about the register of interests relating to the same councillor in the autumn of 2018 I met similar delays and evasiveness on the part of the officer(s) I dealt with.
You will be aware that in a recent report into the failings of the Metropolitan Police the term ‘Institutional Corruption’ was used and the report of the investigating panel referred to the fact that the investigation had been impeded by the organisation.
In their working definition the panel included the following actions or inactions as indicators of Institutional Corruption; failing to identify corruption; failing to confront corruption; failing to manage investigations and ensure proper oversight; failing to make a voluntarily commitment to candour; failing to be open and transparent.
I made reference to the question of whether some officers of Rochdale Council have become corrupted and no longer act in a non-political manner in my communication of 20 May. Within RMBC there has been a failure to ensure proper oversight with the result that officers who fail to carry out their duties and to act within the legal framework set out by the UK government with regard to the provision of information to the public, are not censured. There is no commitment to candour, and there is a failure to be open and transparent.
I am forced to conclude that RMBC is institutionally corrupt. If you object to this conclusion then you may prefer the statement by the panel that ‘failings do not all automatically fall within the definition of corruption. Some may result from professional incompetence or poor management.’
Irrespective of which parts of the last paragraph are applicable, as you are the Chief Executive the responsibility for this lies entirely with yourself.
You will note that I have sent a courtesy copy of this communication to my MP, Mr Chris Clarkson. I will follow it up with a separate e-mail requesting that it be held on file. I have done this to ensure that he is fully aware of the situation should it be necessary at some future date to request him to take up these matters with the office of the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government.
This did produce a response in the form of a change in the web entry which now carries a submission of Rana’s interests within Rochdale timed at 6.16pm on Monday 28 June, i.e. the same day that the above letter would have been received and read. This may of course just be a remarkable coincidence!
The interesting thing about this new entry is that it does not contain the long list of mainly residential properties which were previously declared by Rana and published on 25 March 2021, but not made available on the web. I intend to publish this full list at a later date if it does not miraculously appear on the web from an ‘official’ source before then.
Now of course it is entirely possible that in the last three months these properties have been sold or brought under the umbrella of one of the businesses or partnerships owned or operated by Councillor Rana. The question which then arises is whether officers of the council have deliberately not replied to my FOI requests in order to give him time to do so.
The further questions of who has gained from this evasiveness by council officers and who authorised it will be dealt with in the next few days.
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Friday, 2 July 2021

Health, Status, Wealth & Income. by Les May

I HAVE little doubt that various groups will pounce on aspects of the recent report by UCL Institute of Health Equity and commissioned by the Health Foundation to investigate how the pandemic has affected health inequalities in England, in order to promote their own agenda. Calling yourself a ‘community’ isn’t a particularly good fig leaf for hiding naked self interest.
But as Professor Kate Pickett, co-author of the book ‘The Spirit Level’ pointed out in a recent BBC interview, it tells us nothing new. Health inequalities arising from differences in social status, wealth and income were reported on in detail by Sir Michael Marmot in 2008 and again in 2020. A Covid-19 mortality 25% higher in Greater Manchester than in England as a whole is just a further example of how these inequalities affect longevity and years of life without disability.
In my N.V. article ‘Levelling The Gradient’ of 16 June 2020 I drew attention to the fact that there is little appetite in the UK for recognising the effects of our very unequal society on the lives of our citizens, irrespective of their skin colour. When the 2020 Marmot review which looked at differences in health outcomes appeared it had zero impact on the campaign for Labour leader though two of the candidates felt that a Jewish pressure group and a ‘trans’ pressure group needed their public support. That review simply referred to ‘people’; not ‘black’ people, not ‘brown’ people, not ‘minority ethnic’ people, just people. So lets forget all this talk about ‘my community’ and concentrate on eliminating the disparity of a life expectancy at birth in 2016-18 for men living in the most deprived areas in England of 74 years, compared with 83 years in the least deprived areas; the corresponding figures for women are 79 and 86 years.
The full title of Pickett’s well researched book is ‘The Spirit Level; why equality is better for everyone’. It was published in 2009 and in a slightly revised edition in 2010. You can find it for about £4 at abebooks.co.uk.
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